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.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Paris Podcast!

Technical experiment: I just launched a podcast. So in addition to reading about our adventures in Paris, you can listen to us as well. Ira Glass, watch out!

Honestly, since I hate the sound of my voice, the podcast won't have much, unless y'all have requests from my fine collection of Steve Earle or Iris DeMent records.

Here's the URL for the RSS feed:

(If you want to listen but are unsure how, send me an e-mail and I'll show you when (if?) we put up more interesting content.)

I guess this is the second "radio" show that I've worked on the technical end; you can see the first one here. For those of you've who've asked me what lobbyists do, this will give you a little sample. I know it may sound wonky, but trust me -- Steve's an awesome writer.

Technical notes for nerds
Recorded using
Audacity, 22KHz sampling rate, mono, 16-bit depth, normalized to -3dB, and exported into MP3 format. FTP'd the MP3 to a Webserver, and then linked from Blogger. Blogger only supports RSS 1.0 and Atom, so to get an RSS 2.0 feed, I had to link Blogger to FeedBurner. On the receiving end, iPodder is not available for Windows, so I'm using the Doppler aggregator and then exporting to iTunes.

Kids, don't try this at home! It's kinda hard.

Hope Doreen comes back before I start a vlog.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

An Un-Christian Saturday

Saturday morning dawned cold and damp, but it also dawned on me that I've been in Paris for almost a month -- 20% of my stay was already over! I was determined to go out and see stuff, so I planned an un-Christian walk: some Roman ruins in the Latin Quarter, the Paris Mosque, and then the old synagogues in the Marais.

First stop was the Arènes de Lutèces, the ruins of an old Roman theater. Today, it's a city park, and on Saturday morning it was deserted, except for two boys who were desultorily kicking a ball against the 2,000 year old walls. The casual attitude towards ancient history was surprising -- in L.A., where I'm from, the world's oldest McDonald's (ca. 1953) has been declared a historic landmark. (BTW, if you're in L.A., the McDonald's really is interesting. You can see from the architecture how McDonald's branding and business model have evolved over the years.)

Next stop was the Paris mosque, built in 1922 as a token of thanks to the Muslim soldiers France drafted from its North African colonies during World War I. The rector, Dalil Boubakeur, is a well-known moderate, so I was hoping there might be information about Islam for visitors.

There wasn't. I did notice there was a separate entrance for women, and most of the signs were in Arabic with French translations. The only English signs I saw were the ones asking visitors not to enter the prayer room. The non-visitors I saw tended to avoid me; there was absolutely no evangelism. I wonder if this low profile is attributable to insularity, or a desire to avoid controversy.

After the mosque, I crossed the street to the Jardin de Plantes, which was founded in 1626 by King Louis XIII to supply him with medicinal herbs. Since it's winter, it was a little bleak, but the Grand Hall of Evolution and the the rock museum were open. So was the Paleobotany Gallery, which "retraces the history of the vegetable world since its beginnings on Earth." As fascinating as the vegetable world may be, I didn't want to spend time tracing the 5-billion year evolution of turnips. I passed on the museums.

I next walked to the Institut du Monde Arabe, where there was a big exhibit on the pharaohs of Egypt. The line was blocks long, so I just spent time looking at the building, which has windowshades that look like camera shutters.

The sun had finally come out, so I walked along the Seine, passing some old churches near Notre Dame, to the ruins of the Roman baths at Cluny. Roman Paris was full of bathhouses, including a quite a few on Rue Gay Lussac (named after the brilliant French chemist), but the baths of Cluny are the best preserved.

Right next door to the baths of Cluny is the Musée National du Moyen Âge, which has some very good exhibits of late Medieval art. On Saturday afternoons, they have free concerts of Medieval music. I arrived after the show started, so I wasn't able to attend, but I could hear a little bit through the doors. Medieval troubador songs sound an awful lot like modern Celtic music. Maybe when Doreen is back, we can go see a concert.

At this point, I was pretty tired, so I skipped the synagogues and went home to nap before meeting up with some friends from school to go to the Buddha Bar -- a fitting end to my un-Christian day.

A Skating Sunday?

There is a group in Paris called Rollers & Coquillages ("Rollers and Shells") that leads Rollerblading trips through Paris. Every few Sundays, some Parisian streets are closed, and you can skate on the wide boulevards with the benefit of a police escort. On some summer Sundays, there are 10,000 people skating through Paris.

I’m not a great skater, but the Rollers & Coquillages logo is a snail on skates (seems like a fish on a bicycle, no?), and the Website said that beginners are welcome. How bad could it be? I decided to go with some friends from school. (Thanks to Owen for discovering this!)

Alas, when we got there, we discovered the trip was cancelled. It was rainy and wet, very slippery and dangerous, especially for beginners, they said. But, if we really wanted, they would still rent us Rollerblades so we could skate through the wet, slippery streets of Paris on our own, without a police escort.

Do they think we’re nuts? We’re MBAs. We’ve been trained to conduct detailed scenario analyses and risk assessments. We can tell you the potential downside to any decision. So we decide, naturally, to go for it.

I don’t think it was a bad decision. Johnson is a hockey player and excellent skater, and he was patient enough to lead us. We skated a few blocks to the Seine, where we picked up a bike path along the river. After a couple of hours, we were all cold, wet, and tired. But we still had all our limbs, so we decided it might be a good time to call it quits and head to a bistro for some hot chocolate.

Seriously, though, it’s not that dangerous. The sidewalks and bike paths are wide and smooth, and we had safety equipment on. (After all, we MBAs learn risk mitigation strategies, too.) We’re all looking forward to doing the Paris skate tour when the weather is better, especially now that we’ve had some practice!

The Arènes de Lutèces, ruins of a Roman theater in Paris. The safety rails do not appear to be original.Posted by Hello

Natural History Museum. Posted by Hello

Mosquée de Paris. Posted by Hello

Ficus in a windowbox! This seems a bit much, no? Posted by Hello

View of Notre Dame from a quay on the Seine. Posted by Hello

The windows at the at Institut du Monde Arabe. Posted by Hello

The church at Saint Severin, just a few blocks from Notre Dame. Posted by Hello

Some stained glass in the Musee de Moyen Age. Posted by Hello

Trang, Johnson, Seung-Hyun, Pwen, Paul, and Jason at the skate shop. Posted by Hello

Ruins of the Roman baths of Cluny. Posted by Hello

Johnson, Owen, Seung-Hyun, and Trang with some French skater dudes. Posted by Hello

Friday, January 28, 2005

Global SpongeBob

So I'm here waiting for an 11pm phone interview (the fun is non-stop with the time difference), reading a Spanish newspaper, when I see a big pop-up ad for La Bob Esponja Película ("The Bob Sponge Movie.") The Bob Sponge?

This seems more interesting than the zillionth article about the violence in Iraq, so I click on the link. The Bob Sponge is coming to Spain!

He's also coming to Germany (where he is known as Spongebob Swimming Head) and to France (where he is known as Bob the Sponge).

It's interesting visiting the different Websites to see the differences. The German and Spanish are pretty similar, except that the German site uses a lot of English. (This is called "Denglish.")

The German and Spanish sites look a lot like the American site, but the French site (of course) looks totally different. And on the home page, instead of a movie trailer, there are videos of French actors doing the voiceovers in French. Seems like a strange way to promote a movie, doesn't it?

It's really funny to watch SpongeBob speak different languages. Wish I could understand German and French. It would be interesting to see if the translations of the dialogue are different.

p.s. The link to to Spanish trailer is broken. The correct link should be:

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Learning the lingo

A few months ago, I read an article about a French writer who wrote an entire novel without using any verbs. At first I thought it was just a gimmick, but as I'm studying French now, I've concluded that he's onto something: You don't need verbs.

Because the look of confusion is universal, you can pair this look with any number of nouns, and thereby ask a question. For example, instead of asking, "Do you know if this train goes to the airport?" you can point to a train and ask, "Airport?" Or the other night, when the waiter forgot to bring me my beer, instead of asking, "Will you please bring me the beer that I ordered earlier?" I just said, "Beer?"

This is great. I've downloaded a flashcard program for my computer, and I'm loading it up with nothing but nouns. Of course, this is just survival French, so I won't be able to use it for, say, business or diplomacy. (Well, maybe: Point to an empty warehouse and ask, "Weapons of mass destruction?" Good luck following the answer, though, in any language.)

What a great start!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

More rats

Well, at least I'm feeling better today.

Yesterday afternoon, I was rooting around our micro-fridge for a snack, when I saw the Danone vanilla yogurt that Doreen had bought. I opened one up, and it was absolutely delicious -- rich and creamy, and utterly unlike any so-called "yogurt" you can get in America. It was so good, I went back for another, and noticed they were expiring today. Since I hate to waste food, I ate all four cups right then and there.

This is not a good idea if, like me, you are lactose intolerant. I spent the rest of Saturday, and a good part of today, in agony in the bathroom.

That's when I heard our other rat.

I say "other" because I know we got rid of the first one. The day after we set out some poison, Doreen came home from the market to see a sick rat staggering around the entrance to our building. Fortunately, the owner of the Chinese restaurant next door also saw it. He seemed to become very agitated, and ran back into the restaurant. He came back out with a plastic grocery bag, which he used to scoop up the poor thing. Then he went back in the restaurant with the rat in the bag. We never saw it again. (Memo to self: Best not to order a hot dog chinois here, either.)

That was over a week ago, so I'm sure this is a different guy. The half-eaten poison is still here, untouched for over a week. I'll have to think of something new to outsmart the little varmint.

I'm still thinking.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Car talk

Cross-cultural branding blunder: "The LiFan group, a major Chinese motorcycle manufacturer, plans to call its first car the 'Doodoo' because--according to its chairman, the 'name sounds round and fat, like Audi. ... Cars with names that sound thin and hard don't do as well.'" Audi sounds round and fat and like Doodoo? I don't think so. This has gotta be an urban legend like the Chevy Nova story.

I didn't know Slate columnist Mickey Kaus is a "car guy," but he's written an interesting if sloppy piece on last season's auto shows. (Interesting if you're a car guy; otherwise, just sloppy.) Love his description of the Ford Visos. And I actually like the Nissan Jikoo, though I guess that's my Japanese DNA.

I notice that the Geneva auto show is coming up. The new BMW 3-series is debuting there, and word is that the odious Chris Bangle has finally been reined in, if not fired. A trip to Geneva sounds better than the Paris Sewer Museum, doesn't it? (Hint, hint.) I've entered a drawing for 2 free show tickets; hopefully I won't win the Peugeot instead.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The medieval heart of Dinan. Posted by Hello

Paul in old Dinan. Posted by Hello

Freezing Trang, Jason, and Rohit overlooking the medieval bridge in Dinan. Posted by Hello

Before: île du Grand-Bé at high tide.
Posted by Hello

After: Ile du Grand-Bé at low tide.
 Posted by Hello

Rohit, Trang, and Jason on the beach. Posted by Hello

View of the ramparts of Saint Malo. Yes, those are the stores in the ramparts. Posted by Hello

Trang coming down from the turret or watchtower or whatever it's called. Posted by Hello

Looking up to Saint Malo from the beach at low tide. Posted by Hello

Oh, geez! No wonder we have problems getting visas from the French authorities. Posted by Hello


Since Doreen is out of town now, I thought this might be a good time for me to see some stuff that I don't think will interest her. Like, for example, the Sewer Museum. ("Come with me to Paris, my darling! We can explore the sewers together!")

It's supposed to be quite interesting. The sewers, apparently, are considered a marvel of French engineering, like the Concorde. (There's an aerospace museum with a display of the Concorde, but it's a bit far just for the morning.)

Alas, the Sewer Museum is closed for the last three weeks of January. It re-opens just as Doreen returns from Phoenix. Hmmm. Good surprise?

I also looked into the Delacroix museum, but that also seems to be closed. I guess this is a sign I should do some laundry and homework, and get prepared for a phone interview I have later today. Glamorous Paris!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

All is well!

A big thank you to everyone for their wishes and prayers for Doreen's father! He had his angioplasty surgery yesterday, and is doing well. I last spoke to Doreen when she was transferring in Philly, and as I always tell other people -- if you don't see me on the news, I'm ok.

Cold and very windy in Paris today. Trains seem to be more or less back on schedule. First French class later tonight. Hope I learn fast, because I'm really missing Doreen's French skills, even after just a day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Strike hits French rail services!

From CNN:

Commuters packed sardine-like aboard the few trains left running or got stuck on jammed highways as a strike over job cuts disrupted French rail services Wednesday.

Paris' suburban network was badly hit, with between 60 and 84 percent of trains canceled. Commuters were left with no choice but to cram shoulder-to-shoulder aboard the odd trains still in service.

Labor leader Jean-Claude Mailly of the left-wing Workers' Force union predicted more protests in weeks to come. He said unions were rediscovering their ability to mobilize workers -- after a period of relative calm following repeated strikes in 2003.

Great. The strike is supposed to last until "Thursday morning." I wonder how I'll get to my 8am class. I don't want to get up at 5:30 if I don't have to.

And it gets better: The mailmen will be striking this week, too. Grrrrrrr. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes me to get a PIN number in France. But that's a whole other story.

Striking out in Paris

Some days you hit nothing but home runs, and other days you just strike out. Today was one of those striking out days.

Strike 1
The first strike came last night, when Doreen found out her father has pneumonia, and had just had a heart attack. He’s in the hospital now, with an angioplasty scheduled for later today. Doreen’s dad was a Marine, kicking Nazi butt in France. He looks twenty years younger than his age, and he acts like it, too: During the bad snowstorms in Ohio last month, he stayed up all night pitching in at my brother-in-law Kenn’s business, plowing snow at Cleveland airport. He’s a tough guy, and I know he’s going to be ok (though we appreciate your thoughts and prayers!).

But Doreen, being the sweetie pie that she is, was worried sick. I knew Dad wouldn’t want to interrupt Doreen’s Paris sojourn by having her fly to Phoenix, but this trip is really more for Doreen and her mom than for him, since they're both so worried. I told her she should really go.

The other “strikes” are nowhere near as serious, but since they’re amusing, I’ll tell you about them in gory detail.

Strike 2
Getting a last-minute international flight is insanely expensive, so we decided to use our frequent flyer miles. Doreen was looking for a ticket on Delta, until I came up with a “bright” idea: How about using my US Air miles, since they’re on the verge of bankruptcy? That way, she can still go for free, and we don’t have to worry about losing my miles. Plus, since they partner with United, we can book the ticket on United and not worry about getting stuck in Phoenix.

Brilliant, huh? I tell Doreen to start packing while I get the ticket.

I call United. They answer on the second ring and tell me that to redeem US Air miles for a United flight, I need to call US Air. Ok.

I call the Paris office of US Air. I get a message in French saying that the office is only open until 6pm. Ok.

I call the toll-free American number for US Air. A voice mail system tells me I need to call another number to redeem miles. Ok.

I call the other number. I am told I need to call another number to redeem US Air miles on another carrier. Ok.

I call the other number. I hear beautiful Muzak®, and a recorded voice saying “Your wait time will be approximately: Twenty. Eight. Minutes.” Ok.

After five minutes, I put the phone on speaker.

After thirty minutes, I’m pretty annoyed.

After forty minutes, I’m diligently searching the Website for another way to book the ticket.

After fifty minutes, I find a link for “Ask Us a Question.”

After fifty-one minutes, I discover this link only takes you to another Web page with a FAQ.

After sixty minutes, I find an e-mail address.

After sixty-five minutes, I get a message saying they will respond to my e-mail within twenty-four hours.

After sixty-six minutes, I send them another e-mail telling them what I think of their service.

After seventy-five minutes, the Muzak® stops. I have been disconnected.

Grrrrrrrrr. I just book the #%$#!* ticket on US Air, and cross my fingers they’ll still be in business when Doreen flies back.

Strike 3
Getting to the airport is normally pretty easy: Take the Metro two stops to Denfert-Rochereau. Transfer to the RER train and take it to the end. Voila!

Today, however, was different. None of the trains was headed to the airport; they all stopped at Gare du Nord. Strange. Doreen asked a French-looking couple, in French, if they know what’s going on. They replied, in English, that they don’t. And, since we seem to speak French and know the city, could they follow us? Uh, ok. If George Bush can lead the free world, surely we can lead two tourists from Louisiana.

So we hopped on the first train to Gare du Nord and looked for signs for a train to the airport. After a few minutes, we found it. It was like a scene from the Tokyo subway, where the trains are so crowded there are “pushers” to jam more people into cars. Everybody was rushing towards the train as if Godzilla were already halfway up the escalator.

Luckily, I followed the Godzilla script and looked over my shoulder, like every character does in a Godzilla movie, and saw another train scheduled to depart for the airport in two minutes! Woo-hoo! Doreen and I ditched the Cajun couple and made a mad dash. Twenty minutes later, the train left the station. We finally got to the airport after two hours, where we said goodbye.

Striking out in Paris Part II

Strike 4
By the time I got back to Gare du Nord, I was mighty hungry. The whole place now looked like a Tokyo subway station, with people everywhere. Every food concession had a really long line, except for one, the “Snack and Chips,” which had no line whatsoever. Hmm. I’m tired, I’m hungry, and besides, the place isn’t out of business yet, so it can’t be that bad. Right?

I sidled up to the counter, which was staffed by an albino midget. The menu was above the counter, but I couldn’t help but stare down at the albino midget’s forehead in an attempt to find her eyebrows. After I found them – they’re the same color as her paper hat – I placed an order for what seemed to be the safest bet: un hot dog americaine. (Memo to self: It is a bad, bad sign when a hot dog is your safest bet.)

Now, for those of you who might be unfamiliar with how we eat hot dogs in America, let me explain how a hot dog americaine is made:

  1. Take a baguette which is only about three inches shorter than you if you’re midget.
  2. Slice it open.
  3. Stand up on your tiptoes, and pluck two wieners from a vat of boiling water.
  4. Insert the wieners into the baguette.
  5. Squeeze a generous amount of mayonnaise onto the wieners.
  6. Stand up on your tiptoes, and scoop up some French fries from under a heat lamp. Be careful not to hit the heat lamp with your paper hat!
  7. Dump the fries into the baguette, with the wieners and the mayonnaise.
  8. Wrap your little hands around the baguette, and squeeze it shut. Tightly, till the mayo and fries ooze out the sides.
  9. Bon appetit!

Strike 5
After polishing off my hot dog americaine and waiting thirty minutes, the train for Maissy-Palaiseau finally arrived. Strangely, although Maissy-Palaiseau is a major transfer point, not many people got on the train. Which was fine with me, since it’s a long ride, and I got a seat.

Alas, I fell asleep and missed my stop. When I woke up, the train was full of teenage boys who I swear were laughing at me. One of them seemed to ask me a question which I didn’t understand, and the others seemed to start laughing again.

I felt like giving them the Finger, but I couldn’t remember if it means “up yours” in France, or “Number One.” Now, I don't know what French insults are like, but I couldn't imagine a scenario where “Number One” would be an appropriate response:

“Monsier, you look like a cow and your mother is the whore of Babylon!”

“Number one! Oof!”

Rather than risk it, I just gave them the look that Bailey, our cat, gives us when she’s annoyed. They seemed to laugh some more. Now I understand the utter scorn and disdain that Bailey must feel when she’s annoyed and we think it’s funny.

At the next stop, I left the train and crossed the tracks. And waited forty minutes for the next train back to Maissy-Palaiseau.

Strike 6
I finally made it to Maissy-Palaiseau at 1:45. With luck, I could catch the next train for Jouy-en-Josas, and only be two hours late for my three-hour class, which a lot of the students here seem to be, for some reason.

I walked over to the track for my train and was intently studying the timetable screen -- which was blank -- when a woman three tracks over started yelling at me. I had no idea what she was saying, but she was vigorously gesturing me to get off the platform. Figuring I might be in danger, I left the platform and walked to the main station, where I saw a sign:

Par suite de mouvements sociaux, la circulation des trains est totalment interompue ce jour entre Maissy-Palaiseau et Versailles Chantiers.

Mouvements sociaux” wasn’t in my dictionary, but I could figure out what “totally interrupted today” meant, and it wasn’t good. At this point, my only option to get to school would be to take the train back to Gare du Nord, take another train to Versailles Chantiers, take the Z bus to Petite Jouy-en-Losges, and then transfer to the N bus to Jouy-en-Josas and HEC.

I figured this would make me five hours late for my three-hour class, which is unacceptable even here. So I gave up.

When I got home, I used Google’s translation tool and found that mouvements sociaux means “social movements.” Not too helpful.

I found a link which took me to a Communist party Website. Aha. Searching the news, I found a headline in Reuters: Trafic SNCF très perturbé, la grève des cheminots bien suivie.

Or, as translated by Google: “Very disturbed traffic the SNCF [French railroad], the strike of the railwaymen followed well.”

Yet another strike for me in France!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Saturday night: Mont Saint Michel and Chateau Bonaban

After a nice dinner in Bayeux, we headed to our chateau in the Bretagne countryside.

Actually, we headed to our €70 room in the Chateau Bonaban. For the same price as a clean, comfortable room in a Motel 6, we got a clean, comfortable room that's bigger than our apartment in Paris, in an 18th century chateau. How cool is that? If you have the means, we highly recommend it.

Before we got to the chateau, we stopped by Mont Saint Michel. It was lit up nicely, and you could see it from miles away. I know this is cliche, but you had to be there. The pictures do no justice to how spectacular it is. We hope to be back to tour it!

Mont Saint Michel at night. Posted by Hello

Private property, authorized folks only. Posted by Hello

Welcome to our chateau! Posted by Hello

View of our chateau from the back. Posted by Hello