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.

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!