It’s rather convenient to have a palace courtyard in which to exercise at night. I don’t go to a gym. Usually I swim but the local Olympic sized pool is closed thanks to a hunk of concrete roof falling into the pool two months ago (see my blog “And then the Roof Fell In”). I have thus taken to riding Daisy Belle 2 around the Cour Napoleon and the Cour Carrée of the Louvre. Insulated from traffic sounds and sheltered from the worst of the wind and rain by the deep walls of this palace, I am doing my circuit training in the most extraordinary historic environment, far from modern banality.
Tonight was no exception. I powered through the Cour Napoleon, past the glittering glass Pyramid and up the slope that leads via a long arch into the Cour Carée. The Louvre itself dates back to the medieval times when Paris was confined largely to the Isle de la Cité. The stern towers and prison like walls of Philippe Auguste’s Louvre (meaning defensive fortress) situated to the West of the Cité were demolished in more enlightened times and replaced in stages by the glorious Renaissance edifice that is the Louvre today. The transformation from stark fortress to sumptuous palace dates back to Francois I whose own residence was a rather modest little mansion in what is now the south west corner of the Cour Carrée, one end of which overlooks the Seine. Marie Stuart played here as a child. Since her days, Henri IV, Louis VIII and Louis XIV added to that building to create the square called the Cour Carrée—meaning Square Courtyard—keeping to the Italian Renaissance style of the original François I palace.
This is where I speed around on Daisy Belle 2. Tonight a niggardly drizzle needles my face as we circle the central fountain and ride in a wider arc closer to the walls where the lighted windows of the ground floor reveal displays of antiquities. I pause to admire the eight black marble statues of the lion headed Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, who in her role as the destroyer goddess of ancient Egypt removed many an evil leader or exposed a corrupt practice.
As we circle over wet slabs (avoiding very bumpy cobbles) we are accompanied by the strains of a lone cellist whose classical repertoire enriches our ride. The lighted galleries around us (kept open for the cleaners) reveal painted ceilings where cherubs and buxom ladies drift against angelic turquoise skies. These Renaissance works of art are part of the building itself. But, inside and outside, the Louvre takes a lot of upkeep, which is why the North façade has been shrouded in scaffolding for almost a year.
Our views as we flash around the central space also includes glimpses through the arch that looks south towards the Seine, of the gold trimmed cupola of the Academy Français, poised on the Left Bank end of the Pont des Arts. Another, to the West, reveals the Pyramid, glittering with reflections from internal lights, and a third the delicate tower of St Germain d’Auxerrois whose carillon chimes the hour. Not now though because I am riding in the late evening. In a few minutes at 10pm the huge iron gates that open onto the Cour Carrée from the four arches will be closed.
Daisy Belle speeds me back to the Cour Napoleon, past the romantic cellist whose profound gaze and divine music follow us through the arch. We take a few turns around this vast wet space. The fountains are switched off as the hour of ten arrives but one can still hear the gurgle of the overflow via the artificial weirs that empty the black pools surrounding the Pyramid into who knows what Stygian reservoirs.
We pass under the small Arc de Triomphe going West towards the Tuileries, out onto the rue de Rivoli and past the gilded statue of Joan of Arc on her horse. In moments Daisy Belle is back her own stable in the Place Marche St Honoré and I walk the couple of blocks to my street. As during our ride through the palace courtyards, there’s hardly anyone around. A welcome glass of champagne awaits me after I pull off my damp clothes. A November night’s work out in the heart of civilization: it beats sweating it out in a stuffy gym.