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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.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Sewers, Scotts, Saints, and Snoop Dogg

I finally made it to the Paris Sewer Museum today. (I went on Friday and discovered that during the winter, it’s closed on Fridays.) It was interesting, though not quite as interesting as I’d hoped.

First: Yes, it does smell bad. The Sewer Museum is actually in the Paris sewer system, which still carries raw sewage. I thought the smell would be horrendous, but it’s more like the “not so fresh” smell of a garbage disposal, if you’re lucky enough to have one. Unpleasant, but tolerable. There wasn’t a lot of trash; this being Paris, it was mostly cigarette butts.

The modern sewer system was built by Baron Haussman in the mid 1800s to eliminate the “pestilential odours” that arose from dumping sewage in the street. It was considered an engineering marvel at the time, and tourists would come to ride boats in the sewers. The museum had some postcards of Victorian families spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon in the sewers. The boat rides continued until 1975, when, for some reason, they stopped.

Personally, I think it would be neat if they opened up the sewers again for kayaking. In some tunnels, the sewage moves pretty fast, there are lots of rapids and tight turns, and it's pretty dark. Except for the raw sewage part, it sounds like a blast. Maybe I can pitch it as a reality show: a cross between “The Amazing Race” and “Fear Factor.”

The Sewer Museum has a gift shop, staffed by a genuine Parisian sewer worker who doesn’t speak much English. (Sewage workers are a tight-knit crew, and sewer jobs are sometimes passed from father to son; I wanted to talk to him about that.) The gift shop had gas masks and hardhats for the kids, as well as some really cute stuffed rats for the grown-ups.

Getting to my next stop was a bit of an adventure. I had to take the M13 Metro to the suburbs, but the first train was absolutely packed. Since I was in no big hurry, I waited for the next train, which was just as crowded. Figuring it wouldn’t get better, I hopped on.

The train reeked of alcohol. It was full of loud Scottsmen in kilts. I didn’t hear a word of French on the train, but I couldn’t understand the Scottish accents, either. Soccer hooligans?

Nope. They were rugby hooligans – I imagine that’s worse? – on the way to see a big game against the French. Who knew?

After an excruciating half hour on the train, I arrived at the Basilica of St Denis, the world’s first Gothic church (1135 AD) and the burial place of virtually every French king from Dagobert (639 AD) to Louis XVIII (1824 AD). The tombs, unfortunately, were closed (usually open on Saturday, but not this Saturday), so I spent time looking at the architecture.

I also learned the difference between a cathedral and a basilica. For Catholics, a basilica is an honorific status for a cathedral, and it has special rights, such as the right of the conopaeum (?) and the cappa magna (?). St Denis is a honored as a basilica because it’s reputed to be the resting place of St Denis, patron saint of France.

According to tradition, St Denis was personally converted by Paul, and then sent by Pope Clement to Gaul to convert the Romans. The Romans didn’t like that, so they tried feeding him to the lions. But the lions laid down at St Denis’s feet, unwilling to devour such a holy man. Frustrated, the Romans beheaded St Denis themselves on Montmartre (hence the name – Martyr’s Mountain).

But St Denis rose from the dead, picked up his head, and walked 17km, preaching all the way while accompanied by singing angels, until he met Catulla, a Christian woman who would give him a proper burial. Then he really dropped dead.

This miracle was reportedly witnessed by thousands of people, and because of it, France is now a Christian country.

Historians have found a number of faults with this account – for example, the “Denis” that Paul converts in Acts 17:34 is actually Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, mistranslated into French as “Denis” – but I like the story. I was curious to see if Denis’s saintly status has been re-evaluated by the Catholic Church, but unfortunately the definitive reference, the Index ac status causarum (“Index of the Causes of Saints”), is written entirely in Latin and is not available online. Guess I'll just let the mystery be.

Snoop Dogg
Next stop was the Musee d’Art et d’Historie in St Denis, which has an interesting display of lithographs depicting the Prussian siege of Paris and the Paris Commune of 1871. You could tell the Parisians were starving, if only by all the political cartoons depicting cannibalism of the bourgeoisie as not such a bad idea.

The Paris Commune was formed by a group of communists, Jacobists, and anarchists following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and they ruled Paris for a few brief months before they were defeated during the “Bloody Week.” The Paris Commune was admired by Lenin, Castro, and Mao, among many others.

It seems they still have admirers in St Denis, too. I saw a bunch of posters for the Communist Party in St Denis, as well as posters or flyers for demonstrations against the wars in Iraq and the Ivory Coast, Palestinian liberation, mosques, political prisoners, and free hot meals at a Charismatic Christian church. At the entrance to the basilica, there were beggars: the gypsy women on the left, the Muslim women on the right.

In the States, the poorer neighborhoods are inner city; in Paris, they’re just outside the peripherique. Otherwise, they’re remarkably similar. Rue de la Liberation in St Denis is just like Lexington Avenue in Baltimore: a street that’s now a sad little “pedestrian mall” of dollar stores and used clothing, with people outside selling unnecessary plastic objects from cardboard boxes or stolen shopping carts. The Tweety dolls, the pacifiers, the fuzzy dice for your rearview mirror – it was exactly the same junk. The only thing I didn’t see were chrome dubs, but I think that’s only because 20-inch tires on a 36-inch SmartCar would look ridiculous.

On Paris radio, “American music” is oldies from the '50’s or tame adult contemporary from the '90’s. In St Denis, “American music” is all hip hop, all the time. And not just hip hop, but gangsta rap: 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Jay Z. No J Lo, no Beyonce, not even Eminem. It was weird to see a bunch of Middle Eastern teenagers dressed up in SeanJohn and Roc-a-Wear, chillin’ to ghetto Fabolous.

We (rightly) criticize radical imams for glorifying violence and demeaning women, but seeing these kids listening to gangsta rap and copying the styles, you realize that we’re doing exactly the same thing.