The Adventures of DoBell and Pyama

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Location: Minneapolis, MN

Dempsey is a Golden Retriever puppy who is in training to become a Helping Paws service dog for an individual with a physical disability. He lives with his parents Doreen and Paul, and Bailey the cat. None has ever trained a puppy before. These are their adventures. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the blog author. The contents of this blog have not been reviewed or approved by Helping Paws, Inc.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Listing the times for prayer.

The call to prayer

The noon call to prayer, or Ögle.

Called to prayer

Sunday was a godly day for us, as we visited one church and three mosques.

Of course, staying in Sultanahmet, every day is a godly day. There is a high concentration of mosques in this neighborhood, each with at least one minaret, each with a horn loaded speaker that plays the adhan, or call to prayer, five times a day, the first one right around sunrise. The times for prayer are published daily in the newspaper, and there are even Websites that will calculate the prayer times based on the day and your latitude and longitude.

I'm not sure how the times are calculated -- the only obvious one to me is the Ögle, which seems to be true solar noon -- but it would be interesting to learn how. Because astronomy is pretty central to some Muslim rituals (Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr are based on sightings of the young moon, for example), Islamic astronomy was quite advanced back in the day. One of the most impressive examples from Turkey is the work of Thabit Ibn Qurra Ibn Marwan al-Sabi al-Harrani who in the late 800s, measured the length of the year to within 2 seconds.

Despite all the mathematical rigor, the adhans never quite seem to be in sync. Some muezzins start chanting a little earlier than others, and the speed seems to vary. The Turks have noticed this too, and there's now an effort apparently to better synchronize everyone. I rather like the variation. It's quite haunting and beautiful to hear the different adhans echoing down the narrow cobblestone streets.

Update: I found how the prayer times are calculated, though frankly I don't remember enough trig to know if the formulas here are right. The Ögle is indeed true solar noon, but I was wrong about the first prayer being at sunrise. Looking at the solar depression angles, the first call to prayer seems to be at astronomical twilight -- i.e., painfully early.

Aya Sofia from Sultanahmet Meydani.

Exterior of Aya Sofia at night. It's hard for us to see the logic in the design.

It's hard to capture how vast the interior of Aya Sofia is.

The calligraphic roundels were added when Aya Sofia was converted to a mosque.

Jesus! A mosaic of Madonna and child at Aya Sofia.

A pillaged Medusa head in the Cisterns.

The Basilica Cisterns.

There are a lot of stray cats in Istanbul.

Beautiful stained glass in the harem.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Beautiful tiles at the harem.

Even today, access to the harem is restricted.

Doreen at the entrance to the harem.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

First day in Istanbul

Doreen and I are staying in Sultanahmet, one of the oldest parts of Istanbul. You can walk to many of the major sights within a few minutes, so on our first day we stayed in the neighborhood.

Our first stop in the morning was Topkapi Palace, the seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years. It's a fairly large complex of pavillions and courtyards, but all the guidebooks said the harem is a "must-see," so we went there first.

It's not quite the Playboy Mansion I had imagined. First of all, for the guys -- there are no guys. Except for the Sultan and his sons, every male who entered the harem had to be a eunuch. Ouch. For the girls, everyone except the Sultan's mother and daughters entered as a slave. Like the rest of Ottoman society, however, you could improve your social status through education and hard work, and some of the slave girls became queens.

One man. A thousand women. All competing to be the most popular. I imagine the cattiness would make Mean Girls look like Mayberry. A case in point is Sultana Roxelana. First, she arranged to have her rival, the senior consort Gulfem, exiled. Next, when the Sultan's grand vizier and childhood friend warned the Sultan about Roxelana, she arranged to have him executed. Finally, Roxelana convinced the Sultan that his own son was plotting to overthrow him. The Sultan executed his son by Gulfem, clearing the way for Roxelana's son to become heir to the throne. Not bad for a former slave from Ukraine.

Another highlight at Topkapi Palace is the treasury, which contains gifts of state and holy relics, such as the staff Moses allegedly used to part the Red Sea. Mostly, though, we just wandered the grounds, admiring the architecture and the view of the Bosphorus.

After lunch, our next stop was the Basillica Cisterns. Built using plundered columns during the Byzantine Empire, the Cisterns stored fresh water to be used in case of a city siege. Their existence was a secret for nearly a hundred years, until some residents found they could catch fish from their basements.

Finally, we stopped at Aya Sofia, one of the masterpieces of world architecture. Designed by Isodorus the Younger in 558, Aya Sofia was the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years. We didn't much care for the outside of the building, which looks a lot like a pile of blocks a child may have put together. The inside, however, is quite spectacular, with a huge central dome over 180 feet high.

It was getting cold and windy at this point, so we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap. We just missed a big storm, and we lost power for a couple of hours. By 10pm, the power was back, and I was hungry, so I went out in search of food. Unfortunately, everything seemed to be closed except for a popular Scottish restaurant.

As I was walking down the narrow streets looking for another food option, a car honked and pulled up beside me. The driver rolled down his window and yelled out the window.

"Gobbledygook, gobbeledygook, yadda, yadda -- oh, no Turkish? Sorry!"

He rolled up the window and took off. After going maybe fifty feet, he stopped the car, put it in reverse, and came back to me.

"Hello! Where from you are?" he asked.


"Ah, America! Obama!" He flashed a thumbs up. "You look Turkish at behind. I thought you were Turkish. I am sorry. Where you are originally? Japanese?"

"Yes, Japanese."

"Oh, but you live in America now?"


"Where to you go?"

"Hotel." I didn't want to say that I was heading back to McDonald's.

"It's cold and rainy! Please, come and let me give you a drive. Perhaps I can buy you a drink?"

I politely demurred.

"Thank you! Please enjoy my country!"

The Turks, I have to say, are some of the nicest people I've met in my travels. Earlier, I had been standing at a street corner, looking at a map, when a businessman came up to me and asked if he could help. I half expected him to open his briefcase and offer me some fine Rolexes, but he really just wanted to help. It's hard to put aside my American cynicism sometimes.

The Scottish restaurant, being the only establishment open after the power outage, was fairly crowded. All the Turks were ordering Big Macs, but being an American, I had to order the "McTurko." When I explained it was to go, the cashier put everything -- including the drink -- into its own paper bag, and then put all the individual paper bags into a large shopping bag, along with some packets of ketçap and mayonez.

The McTurko, in case you're curious, is awful. It's a far inferior, yet more expensive, version of the food you can get next door. I suspect it's mostly stupid Americans (like me) who buy this crap. The Turks go to McDonald's for the Big Macs, and to the street vendors for real food. Next time I think I'll do like the locals do and get a Big Mac.

Friday, November 21, 2008

View of the sea from the hotel terrace.

Doreen on the hotel terrace, in front of the Blue Mosque.

Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal; it looks cute as a bug.

Arrived in Istanbul!

We just arrived in Istanbul!

It was a long flight -- we left the house yesterday at 5:30am, and it is now 2pm Istanbul time. We had a 4 hour layover at JFK, which we spent looking at Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal. It's a lot smaller than I expected; I thought it would be more like Dulles, which Saarinen also designed. It's a cute little terminal, but overall I think he reminds me of Calatrava: building as sculpture.

Anyway, the hotel we're staying at -- the Hotel Erguvan Istanbul -- is tres mignon! There's a view of the Sea of Marmara from one side, and a view of the Blue Mosque from the other.

Doreen is going to take a nap; Paul is probably going to walk around a bit. More later!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Turkey for Turkey Day

Every Thanksgiving, Doreen and I try to go on an exotic trip. Last year, we spent Thanksgiving at the Taj Mahal in India, and in previous years we’ve been to Montserrat, Fontainebleau, and Akron, Ohio, home of the World of Rubber. This year, we’re going to Turkey for Turkey Day, specifically Istanbul (not Constantinople).

We’re a little sad to be leaving Minnesota and missing the annual Thanksgiving soirée our neighbors have. They’ve already burned the trash in their backyard in a giant bonfire, and the Port-A-Potty has been delivered. We hear that last year, it was a 9-kegger, and the Port-A-Potty overflowed, sending a river of human excrement down the alley. Classy!

Fortunately, Turkey has culture as well. In ancient times, Istanbul was the Greek colony of Byzantium. In 330, Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor, moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium to be closer important trade routes. As you would expect from someone named Constantine the Great, he renamed the city after himself, and Byzantium became Constantinople.

While the eastern part of the Roman Empire was flourishing, the western part came under attack from Attila the Hun. My history gets a little foggy here – in my defense, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire spans six volumes – but basically, the western part of the Roman Empire began its sad decline into the Dark Ages, while the Eastern part, now called the Byzantine Empire, remained a wealthy center of trade.

In 1453, the Ottoman Turks invaded, and Constantinople became the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which lasted until 1923. Modern Turkey was founded in large part by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a gifted military leader who had defeated the French and English at the Battle of Gallipoli against long odds.

Atatürk seems to have been quite a progressive chap, who admired rationalist Enlightenment thought and supported secularism and women’s rights. He wanted to modernize Turkey, and he did so through a variety of laws, such as the Hat Law of 1925, which banned the wearing of the fez.

Atatürk has largely succeeded. Today, Turkey remains a majority (99%) Muslim country, but secular and democratic. It has been a member of NATO since 1952, a founding member of the OECD, and is now a candidate for full membership in the EU. There are reportedly more billionaires in Istanbul than in Tokyo.

Istanbul seems to be a fascinating cross between east and west, and it will be interesting to see how they reconcile Islamic traditions with Western government and economics. If demographic trends continue, Istanbul today may look like the Paris of tomorrow. I think it’ll be a great case study in multiculturalism, assimilation, and development.

All this highfalutin talk aside, we’re going there to have fun! Maybe go on a cruise of the Bosphorus, drink some raki, and try the national sport, grease wrestling.

Or maybe not. I found a Dutch video of Turkish grease wrestling, and it looks like, um, the trailer for “Steam: The Turkish Bath.”

It looks like an interesting land!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

Not a bad place to spend the holiday. It snowed this day in Minnesota. Needless to say, we didn't miss it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

North Dakota

Doreen and I took a road trip last week, looking for a moose and some French folks, and we drove through North Dakota because, well, it’s there.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn there isn’t much in North Dakota. When I was looking at our road atlas, I only found only two sites listed as tourist attractions: the Lawrence Welk Birthplace and the World’s Tallest Structure, which turns out to be a TV antenna. It was a tough choice, but I decided the World’s Tallest Structure would be more interesting.

It was a little underwhelming, truth be told. Although it’s 2,063 feet tall – taller than the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument, and the Great Pyramid at Giza combined – it’s set in a cornfield, so you really don’t have a sense of scale. About the only thing that could give it perspective was the World’s Second Tallest Structure, which also turns out to be a TV antenna. Unfortunately, it’s 2,060 feet tall and located a few miles away, so all you can see were two antennas rising from a cornfield.

Lest you think we’re the only people in the world to go look for this, let me point you to this page which has a message from Herr Nikolaus Heusler, of Munich, Germany: “Hi, these photos are really exciting. I plan to visit these towers some day, too. Can anyone tell me how close one can actually get to the towers to make pictures? Best regards from Munich, Germany, Nikolaus Heusler.”

Herr Heusler, you can walk right up to the base of the antenna. The only other fun factoid I can give you is that the Federal Aviation Administration issued a rule after the antenna was built decreeing that no structure in the U.S. can be taller than 2,063 feet. So this will be forevermore the tallest thing you can see in America.

Actually, we did make one other stop in North Dakota: the Fargo Air Museum. They don’t have a super extensive collection, but they did have two planes I wanted to see: the Chance Vought F4U Corsair and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Most of their other planes look like glorified Cessnas, but we did see some other interesting stuff:

  • A Grumman TBM Avenger, perhaps best known as the plane that President George H.W. Bush piloted in World War II.
  • A cute, flyable half scale model of a Focke Wulf 190.
  • A Pratt and Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major Engine. This 69.2L, 28-cylinder engine was the last of the fabled Wasp line, and it powered such famous aircraft as the B-36 “Peacemaker,” a gigantic strategic bomber powered by both jets and propellers; and the Hughes H-4, better known as the Spruce Goose.

Ok, enough on geeky plane talk. You’re probably wondering if we saw a moose. Stay tuned!

It's taller than corn. Posted by Picasa

It looked like tornado weather near the antenna. Posted by Picasa

The World's Tallest Structure. Technically, it is a "mast" (supported by guy wires) and not a "tower" (self-supporting). Posted by Picasa

Paul by the politically correct half scale replica of the Focke Wulf 190.  Posted by Picasa

The Pratt and Whitney Wasp Major engine in front of the Mitsubishi Zero. Posted by Picasa