Letter From Parisnby Curtis CatenModern Pyramids andnAncient SquaresnWe were driving past the Pavilion denFlore, which punctuates the southwesternnextremity of the Louvre’s GrandenGalerie, when my neighbor suddenlyngripped my arm and exclaimed, “Mira!nEstos techos! estas chimineas! Hombre!nEstupendo!” (Look! Those roofs,nthose chimneys! Man alive! Stupendous!)nSuch was the reaction of thenfamous Spanish cartoonist, AntonionMingote, to his first exposure to thenLouvre, some twenty years or morenago.nFor me this was both an exciting andnsobering experience. Having lived fornso many years in Paris, I had grownnused to the tall chimneys and rooftopsnof the Louvre and had ended up takingnthem for granted. It had taken thisnvisiting Spaniard to make me realizenjust how stupendous the Louvre’s tallnroofs, domed pavilions, and soaringnchimneys really were.nIn 1852, when Napoleon III decidednto complete what his more illustriousnuncle had already begun^bynclearing three streets of run-downnhouses in order to connect the northernnwing of the Tuileries Palace to thenLouvre along the handsomely arcadednRue de Rivoli—he entrusted this tasknof palatial enlargement to two conservativenarchitects, Lodovico Viscontinand Hector Lefuel, who today arenvirtually forgotten. Neither being angenius nor burning to be furiouslyn”original,” they prudently decided thatnthe Louvre could best be aggrandizednby the construction of two monumental,ntall-roofed wings, complete with sixnmagnificent domed pavilions, similarnto those which the great Renaissancenarchitect, Philibert Delorme, had designednfor Catherine de Medicis’ TuileriesnPalace. They further decided tondecorate, the cornices with stone statues,nrepresenting French lawmakersnand thinkers, painters, architects, andnCORRESPONDENCEnpoets — in all, more than one hundred.nWhen finally completed in 1857 thenstructure was considerably larger thann. Louis XIII’s Cour de Marbre rose atnVersailles, and notwithstanding its relativenlack of architectural originality itnwas the most palatial and grandestnforecourt in the world.nUp until fairly recently this magnificentnforecourt served as a daytimenparking lot for museum curators andnsenior officials from the French Ministrynof Finance, located in the northernnwing of the Louvre. The forecourt,nnow known as the Cour Napoleon,nwas further disgraced by clumps ofntrees and bushes and an incongruouslynplaced statue of Lafayette. But a fewnyears ago all the cars were ordered out,nthe trees and the statue were removed.nThe result, particularly impressive innthe evening, was a wonderfully lamp-litnsquare, dominated by the broodingndomes and the soundless voices of itsnlordly statues, which seemed to benconversing with each other or with thenwandering visitor below. Nowhere innthe French capital was the rich continuitynof French history so grandly andneloquently evoked as here.nToday, however, the magic spell hasnbeen broken. The ghosts of the past nonlonger flit across the square, the statuesnno,longer converse. For the huge forecourtn(120 yards wide, 250 yards deep)nis now partly filled by a strange glass ,ntent, held together by metal struts andnribbing, which destroys the vue d’ensemblenone used to have, and makesnthe stately square almost carnivalesque.nThe jarring 20th-century intruder isnthe famous 70-foot-high glass pyramidndesigned by a Chinese-American architect,nI.M. Pei. The pyramid “shelters”na circular entrance ramp leadingndown to an “enchanted” underworldnof ticket-dispensing counters, informationndesks, bookshops, a bank, postoffice,nrestaurant, and cafeteria — fromnwhich throbbing concourse, effbrflesslynborne upwards again on three escalatingncarpets, the perfectly oriented andnpossibly “tanked-up” sightseer cannnow penetrate the labyrinthine galleriesnof the “Grand Louvre.”nExactly what kind of verdict histori­nnnans of the future will pass on thisnless-than-crystalline excrescence whennthey chronicle the second seven-yearnreign of Frangois II, I have no idea. Butnthey are likely to conclude that thenmanner in which this pyramid wasnchosen and then imposed on a passive,nwillingly bamboozled French publicnwas a masterful exhibition of manipulation,npulled off by someone who hasnfew equals in the art of transmuting aiinautocratic vox Dei into a seeminglyndemocratic vox populi.nIn the “precedent” of that tubularnmonstrosity known as the CentrenGeorges Pompidou (or “Centre Beauborg”),ncompeting designs were solicitednand some 280 obtained beforenerection, but the decision to have I.M.nPei design a single, new, “eye-catching”nentrance to the Louvre was madenpersonally by Frangois Mitterrand,nwith the enthusiastic cooperation of hisneffervescent Minister of Culture, JacknLang, in the summer of 1983. When,nsix months later, the glass pyramidnproject was presented to the Commissionnsupe’rieure des monumentsnhistoriques, responsible for the conservationnand restoration of French buildingsnof historic worth, its startled membersnwere given exactly three hours tondebate the merits of this project,” whichnhad been cleverly sandwiched innamong a score of other questions —namong them one recommending thenpreservation of certain synagogues andnchurches, and another recommendingnthe construction of a subterranean garagenfor cars and buses under theneastern end of the Tuileries Gardens.nSince this latter proposal, which wasnintended to rid the immediate vicinitynof the museum of the swarms of sightseeingnbuses ruining the splendid westwardnvista up the Tuileries Gardens,nwas welcomed by virtually every membernof the historic monuments commission,nit was later intimated throughncarefully planted “leaks” and an ingeniousnprocess of amalgam that the commissionnhad approved all of the Ministrynof Culture’s recommendationsnvirtually unanimously — whereas innfact most of the members had shownnthemselves anything but enthusiasticnFEBRUARY 1990/41n