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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.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A little Dixie in Chantilly

Yesterday, Doreen and I went to Chantilly, the horse racing capital of France. It was a nice trip, though it didn't start out that way.

One of our guidebooks said there are 36 trains a day to Chantilly, but we when arrived at Gare du Nord, we discovered there were only two: one at 7:30 in the morning, and the other at 11:30 at night. The reason? You guessed it: another strike.

We asked a lot of people, got some bogus information, and finally ended up, almost two hours later, on another train to Chantilly. While we were sitting around waiting, we watched the turnstiles. We'd estimate that at least 1 out of every 5 people was a turnstile jumper. This was pretty irritating, but even more irritating was the security guard ten feet away who didn't do anything. I guess he was on the lookout for terrorists.

Even more curious, people would actually help the turnstile jumpers. Doreen spoke to a nice old lady, who explained that she let some teenagers re-use her ticket, because otherwise the poor cheating teenagers would have to pay a fine. Well, yes.

A lot of environmentalists in the U.S. talk about how wonderful the European train system is, but I haven't seen it. Personally, I think we could better spend our transportation dollars buying everyone a donkey. Donkeys pollute even less, and stubborn as they are, they're still easier to get moving than bureaucrats. (The train system in France is state-owned, so every striking railroad worker is a government employee.)

Grrrrrr. Can you tell all these strikes are driving me nuts?

At any rate, the donkeys wouldn't work in Chantilly, because it's the Kentucky of France -- the capital of the French horse world. The fields surrounding Chantilly are home to thousands of thoroughbreds, and the Hippodrome in Chantilly is home to two big races, the Prix du Jockey-Club and the Prix de Diane-Hermes. The grandstand is tiny by American standards, and the track is entirely turf. Since there was no security, Doreen and I walked on the track and watched some kite flyers in the infield.

We fully realized how big horses are in Chantilly as we were walking from the Hippodrome toward what we thought was the chateau. It wasn't. The huge building that we saw was the stables. The actual chateau, which is down the road a bit, is actually a bit smaller.

Chantilly chateau has an interesting history. A fortress on a rocky outcropping in Roman times, "modern" Chantilly started taking shape in 1528. It was destroyed during the French Revolution, and rebuilt in the late 1800s.

In its heyday, Chantilly was so grand even the royal family was jealous. The hameau, a fake village in the garden, was adored by Marie Antoinette, who built a copy of it at Versailles. The last private owner, Henri d'Orelans, the Duke of Aumale, was a horse lover who believed he would be reincarnated as a horse. (This would explain the fancy stables.) He was also a compulsive collector who amassed 30,000 books and 700 illuminated manuscripts in addition to stained glass, cameos, gems, miniature guns, sculptures, and several hundred paintings, including half a dozen of himself.

It all reminded me a bit of the Richard Petty Museum in North Carolina. Think about it:

Chantilly Richard Petty Museum

It's what you do when you have too much money, I guess.