For more than a couple centuries now, the Louvre museum in Paris has come to be synonymous with art and artifacts of the past. Housed in the former royal palace from before the monarchy headed for the suburbs of Versailles, the home of the one time royal collection was also synonymous with all that was the best and worst in the way of museums. It was diverse, yet dismal in its stuffiness. It was cavernous on the one hand yet overcrowded on the other. It's palatial layout was ill-suited for a museum, a maze where finding a working restroom, or even an exit, was often far more difficult that finding the "Mona Lisa."

In 1989, Parisians were aghast when the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei managed to "fix" much of what was wrong with the musty old barn. It wasn't so much his remedies but the seemingly incongruous glass pyramid he erected in the courtyard to serve as a new, consolidated entrance to the museum so as to house underground the corollary services and organize the whole complex into something approaching a logical layout by category as well as chronology. It took some getting use to on the part of the French, but everyone else LOVED it. In just four years, attendance grew from 2.7 million visitors per year to an astounding 5.1 million. Then Pei did it again. He built nearby yet another identical glass pyramid. This time, Parisians raised hardly a word of protest. Of course this time, the pyramid was inverted, entirely underground, but also, this time, it lead not to the museum but to a megalopolistic underground shopping mall next door. It's called the Carrousel. Imagine the protest in Washington, DC if WE built a mall on the mall, or even under it, next door to our National Gallery!

Actually, strange as it sounds, the combination works pretty well. Museum attendance last year topped out at about 6 million visitors. The Carrousel provides an additional, all-weather, underground entrance to the Louvre itself, accessible to the Metro and underground parking, (no more waiting outside in line to buy tickets in the hot sun or pouring rain). Also included is additional restaurant and meeting areas (for Paris' huge fashion shows for instance). Also, the Carrousel provides a modest income for the museum itself, which has a say in approving tenants for the shopping complex. Many even think it makes visiting the Louvre less intimidating. It's just another attraction next door to the cinema and the Virgin Megastore. There's even a gift shop run ironically by New York's, Metropolitan Museum.

Although both the Louvre and the Carrousel benefit from their close proximity, the shopping complex does make the museum a bit nervous. People tend not to differentiate one from the other. Also, most of the shops have more to do with high fashion than high art. And the food service, for the most part is NOT haut cuisine but of the "fast" variety, in a dizzying array of international manifestations from Vietnamese to Moroccan. The whole complex is often criticized as being "too American" which is amusing when in fact, America has nothing in the way of museum/shopping complexes to even begin to compare with it. The best we seem to be able to do is mount our meager shopping enterprises INSIDE the museums themselves, which even at that only sell boring stuff like books, tapes, and posters. But then again, we don't have a Louvre. Viva la difference! Viva la France!