Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I’ve been dubbed, subtitled and translated into sign-language

It seems that we can blame that old sod Franco for the size of the Spanish dubbing industry. Where other countries tamely put subtitles on their cinema or television screens, the Spanish are much more partial to James Dean’s mouth making a ‘hi’ movement as a strange and gravely Madrid voice says ‘hola, ¿que tal?’ Sometimes, they don’t even remove the original soundtrack – just turn it down with the Spanish version bellowed out on top. There’s David Attenborough telling us about snakes in his whispery voice – which at least this viewer can – or could understand – if it wasn’t for the same bloke from Madrid thundering out something about serpientes venenosas rendering the whole thing impossible to understand in any language.
Franco didn’t approve of foreign languages – Basque and Catalonian of course – but anything else either. They might be saying something untoward, immoral or revolutionary. So he banned them. No one was to speak anything but Spanish – including the nation’s deaf, who were not allowed to use sign-language (and even today they sign in a rather furtive sort of way, as if they are still on the look out for a Guardia Civil).
So, forget subtitles, everything imported had to be dubbed. Except, come to think of it, pop music. It would have been a stretch having our friend from Madrid crooning ‘she loves yer ya ya ya’ in castellano over the Beatles. Can’t see many people buying the record either. Anyway, in some cases, films were translated away from their original meaning – if immoral or faintly subversive – and represented in a more acceptable light ‘she’s my girlfriend’, for example, might become ‘she’s my fiancée’. Of course, if the film strayed to far from the Catholic Church’s view of morality, or the Government’s view of political propriety, it would never be shown here anyway. Which is why everyone had to drive up to Perpignan to see Marlon Brando’s ‘Last Tango in Paris’ and why they currently sell porn films (apparently by the lorry-load) out of Spanish gas stations.
But, going back to dubbing. Televisions now have this special button for those who wish to see something in its ‘versión original’. Press it and – whoops – up’ll come David in all his glory, except for anything from the BBC (David again) which won’t for, no doubt, copyright reasons. Bloody nuisance. The National Geographic channel has the choice of Spanish or English, but the Documanía channel next to it on the dial has Spanish or Portuguese – even though most of the material is American. Most peculiar. Some comedies – such as Frasier on Canal Plus – have the original version wiped, and as anyone who has seen a comedy in translation, you know that the jokes don’t always make it past the dictionary. On the ordinary bog-standard television, several channels operate the original language knob, but you have to re-tune it after every commercial interruption (which, in Spain, is about every five minutes). Read a book, why don’cha?
In Madrid, there are a few cinemas that show films in ‘V.O.’ with subtitles, usually lowbrow comedies. They do well with the American students.
Well, at least the Continentals are prepared to look at foreign cinema, as well as their own (and the Spanish make quite respectable movies). In Britain, we think that everything good, if not ours, comes from Hollywood. When was the last time you saw a French film, an Italian TV show or a Spanish documentary? Bloody Americans – if there’s a decent European film out there, they’ll churn out a re-make (gotta have that Tom Cruise as the Good German who wants to murder Hitler).
In Greece or Portugal or Denmark or Poland (well, I’m guessing about Poland to be frank), you’ll sit down with the local version of popcorn and watch the movie in its original language, the subtitles wobbling there at the bottom of the screen and – in the Mediterranean cinemas at least – with the entire audience talking at once.
I suppose dubbing can be useful. The first thing I learnt in Spanish was ‘Hands up’, which I have to admit that I’ve still yet to use in my private capacity. A German friend once told me that he’d learnt English from listening to pop music. Apart from coming out with some odd expressions occasionally ‘(‘Baby, light my fire’, ‘you’re my Rockafella’ and so on), he managed a certain fluency without, apparently, an undue amount of effort. Perhaps some of my readers might want to follow his example and start practicing singing along to Miguel Ríos or Camilo Sesto (If I were you, I’d save the Flamenco until a bit later).
So the dubbing industry, started and encouraged by Franco, had, by the time of his death, become so powerful (in a relatively small field) that it has managed to continue on into modern times.
Where you won’t find it, of course, is in politics. While Carod Rovira, a Spaniard who is powerful in Catalonian politics, won’t speak in Spanish on Spanish television (for which, the American expression ‘go figure’ seems remarkably apt); he drones on in Catalonian – apparently with a slight Spanish accent – and is subtitled by the news channel. Since he’s talking a lot of independence stuff, no one bothers to read what he says.
Curiously though, when he – or any other Catalonian politician - wants to appeal to the larger public about something other than politics, why, he’ll address us in Spanish. This does not happen in the Basque County, however, where all declarations, political or otherwise, are made in Spanish. Perhaps they don’t have a good subtitling service there…

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Future Imperfect

‘So what do we want the future of our town to be like?’ I asked the founding members of the latest version of our chamber of commerce. ‘We can have tee-shirt shops and bus loads of tourists, fancy hotels and convoys of BMWs or lots of satisfied residents living in peace and tranquillity’.
Behind me, a champion of the tee-shirt school of thought got to his feet. ‘We need more tourists and we need to bring them in through aggressive advertising and promotion,’ he said. Paid for, no doubt, by thee and me.
The occasion was a meeting in a local hotel. We were about thirty, divided as always in ex-pat Spain by the twin curses of monolinguality and self-interest. The local people consider that the town is for their exclusive use and that the visitors here (even those who are third generation) have as few rights and opportunities as possible.
Our town is beautiful. It’s a white cubist village with narrow walking streets, which has adorned the top of a hill overlooking the sea since the dawn of time. It had almost disappeared, falling into rubble and abandonment, by the mid to late fifties and only the arrival of artists, followed by settlers from elsewhere during the following decade, allowed the village to re-group, and those of its citizens who had moved away to France, Germany or beyond, to consider returning. At least to sell off a few plots.
So it began. The older kids had inherited the agricultural lands – land where the water was no longer arriving. Many of them had left for better opportunities elsewhere. The second-born got the worthless beach-land, where no one lived, no one fished and no one went.
Now, years later, the greed has set in. The village overlooks seventeen kilometres of beach, strung out beside a narrow and poorly planned road with no possibility of widening it and equally no chance of building a parallel road to relieve the increasing traffic density. The tourist hotels don’t really work in the town’s benefit as their visitors aren’t going to walk very far along the thin coastal strip, and because the hotels themselves, having been forced to make cut-throat offers, don’t want their customers to leave the premises. If they are going to drink, by Golly, they’ll do it here.
Bad news for our eight hundred bars and restaurants.
Since builders make better money off apartments than they do houses, our town has built an endless number of small, ugly and, by necessity, cramped apartments that are, inevitably, used only a few weeks of the year. Our eight hundred bars and restaurants mentioned above are therefore beholden to the year-long residents who either live in the reduced number of houses that the town possesses or, if they are in those small apartments – usually paying quite ferociously high rents - they probably can’t afford to go out anyway. The best return on one’s buck for the builders (and the corrupt officials who sign them off), being apartments, then the worst return is parking spaces, roads and gardens. As far as the first two go, there are never enough parking spaces, which mean that there are never enough places for the customers to leave their cars (I have to spell it out here), which in turn means that the eight hundred bars and restaurants (many of whom also pay a cripplingly high rent) don’t get enough customers. I usually drive up to the pueblo for dinner; drive around looking for a space without success… and then motor on inland to the next town.
I’m sorry, I was hungry.
The narrow roads, which kink and higgle n’ piggle around the different borders and narrow pavements, are usually too tight for two cars to pass, or one to park. Nice planning from the tee-shirt shop philosophers who, unfortunately, have run the town hall for the past thirty years.
Teddy bears, humorous ashtrays, wobbly pots, rag throw-rugs and vulgar tee-shirts: Louche shops selling tourist-tat. Where are the theatres and the noble buildings? Why haven’t the wealthiest (and, trust me, they’re wealthy!) local families donated as much as a wooden bench to their community in all these years?
I turned to the chap who wanted busloads of tourists – one can only imagine that his interest was in his three-storey emporium – and asked him if his new shop (his old one had tragically burnt down last summer) would be a fraction less ugly than its predecessor. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the architect’.
‘¡Ay Pobre Mojácar! La tratamos como una vieja puta. Todos querremos joderla y nadie quiere comprarla flores’: Poor old Mojácar, we treat her like an old whore. All we wanna do is fuck her. No one wants to buy her flowers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The First Swim

The weather is just perfect for an early-year swim in the sea. Perhaps if I didn’t live here I would take up my own kind offer and jump off a handy rock and splash about for a bit before staggering out for a refreshing glass of tinto de verano, easy on the ice. However, since I do live here, I tend to forgo the splashy stuff and get straight in to the bar for my order. I mean, it’s still too cold for us thin-blooded locals, and anyway, come to think of it, I haven’t swum in the sea besides a couple of ill-considered visits after an extended lunch for about twenty years.
I may have a very slight case of hydrophobia, the fear of water, which is apparently a side effect of rabies. As far as I know, no other signs of this dreadful plague are in evidence on my person and I wonder if it might just be a minor and slow-moving dose that I might have picked up that time I was savaged by a bad-tempered vole which I was attempting to attach to a hanky prior to parachuting the rodent from the roof of the family pile while I was still of a tender age. Still, forty years on and I’m still going strong, no twitches or obvious widow’s peak, although I do like to keep the windows open during the full moon.
The sea is protected by ‘Costas’, a selfless organisation that makes sure that the primal brine isn’t sullied by anything beyond an occasional bather while the pristine sands of the coast are free from skyscrapers, dog messes, barns, garages, piers (a huge no-no) and, above all, any suggestion of permanence from those temporary ‘dismountable’ buildings which we call ‘beach bars’. Anything really beyond a happy sprinkling of ‘Blue Flags’ which denote ‘excellence’ in the beach facilities, cleanliness, showers and wheelchair access together with no interference in Mother Nature’s soft and salty embrace. So protected is the sea these days, that I wonder exactly what the showers are for – are they like swimming-pool showers, where you are meant to wash yourself down before getting in so as to keep the water clean? Apparently, the ‘Costas’ people have decreed that any tussocks of grass which grow on the sand, or any seaweed washed up onto the shore, can’t be removed by the local town halls (except after midnight when the ecologists are all tucked up asleep on their futons). In short, the sea and the beach belong to us all, are to be left au naturel, and we have free access and use for all its treasures, except when told differently.
The other day, I took the dog down to one of those ‘unimproved’ beaches along the coast a way. No metal benches, beach bars, life savers, peculiar white-painted cabins – with the inevitable ‘Goofy was here’ graffiti: no football or beach-ball courts, no playpens, swings or broken whirly-things, no flags, dustbins, informative signs in three languages, showers, accordionists, tulip-vendors or public lavatories. Just a few of those highly colourful motor-caravans as favoured by the wealthy trekkers from the far north that the police are now talking about fining after three days camping outside of the ‘approved areas’. Peaceful. I even anticipated seeing a few dolphins near the shore nodding and squeaking at us. They’re asking for fish really.
My dog seemed to be happy enough with the lack of clutter on that particular beach and ran about chasing pebbles and bits of flying seaweed (oops!). I took my socks off.
Things went well until I began to drive home with the window up to stop the cloud of sand and dust thrown by the wheels. The car stank of warm and wet hound and the thunderhead of dust, it turned out, upset a group of hiking Germans dressed in old-fashioned shorts who were coming the other way, intent on invading the next-door beach. Boy, did I get an earful.
On reflection, I should have been carrying a Blue Flag.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sports Night

The Spanish have a lively interest in something called the NBA, the American basketball league. We have it stuffed down our throats every time we switch on the telly or pick up a newspaper. The reason for this is because there are three very tall Spaniards who play in different Yankee teams. One of the players is called Pau Gasol and he plays, I believe, for the Lakers. I hope any red-blooded American readers of this blog are suitably impressed. Our boys beating you at your game. Oh, the irony. Mind you, one can’t help wondering if, in the happy event that there were no very tall Spaniards galloping about on a hard-floor in Denver and scoring hoops or baskets (or whatever) every five seconds, then we wouldn’t be subjected to being obliged to watch this peculiar game with quite the same fervour. But then, who’s to know. Tonight, on the other TV channels – the ones that aren’t showing football or golf or tennis – we are swamped for choice between (and I’m not making this up) a Hollywood weeper about an ‘American Football player’ who finds a small child on his step and, I’m wiping away a tear as I write this, finds some classy form of redemption; and another film on Channel Five about another ‘American Football player’ who, for a change, befriends a disabled black kid who – well, I won’t spoil the plot for you.
In Spain, if you go out for a beer on a football ('soccer') night, which is essentially almost any night of the week, then there will be lots of bars with big-screen televisions to choose from, pumping out as loud as possible the entire enervating and nerve-wracking game for their customers' pleasure; and around the corner there will be other places, quieter, full of what are known as football widows. And people like me.
Between Spain’s fervent love of watching soccer at the drop of a beer-mat, a game as ephemeral in its importance as a weather forecast, or the paeans of praise tossed – or rather ‘lobbed’ - onto the shoulders of the NBA star Pau Gasol (he’s probably Catalonian), I think that we should give thanks that no one has ever moved from Spain to New Zealand… and joined a cricket team.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A Town Divided

Someone has posted a thread on a local forum suggesting that our mayoress is a racist.
We live in a town of between eight and ten thousand inhabitants on the coast of Spain. It’s a cosmopolitan place and many extranjeros – foreigners – have come to settle here over the past forty years, attracted by its beauty, its bohemian lifestyle and its prices. All three qualities have since been watered down, of course, by the resulting nouvelle bourgeoisie, but we stay, victims of our own excesses. Too many four-wheel drives these days and not enough (indeed, any) donkeys. The settlers now outnumber the locals and, if all of us bothered to register with the town hall (hence the variance between the population numbers), we would probably run to about 65% or 70% of the entire population.
Our town can be divided into three groups. Local people; forasteros (a relatively small number of Spaniards from the rest of Spain) and extranjeros. As far as natural alliances go – if it wasn’t for the language problem – you could say that the forasteros and extranjeros are in the same boat. If there’s a pie, public money or jobs to be had, then the town hall and the mayoress, like the mayors before her, is definitely not going to share it round outside the immediate circle of the village-folk. The non-local Spaniards know this and they know how to circumvent most problems thrown at them. After all, who in Spain doesn’t number a judge, a lawyer, a politician, a bank-manager or a policeman among his cousins? The foreigners, unfortunately, have few or no good contacts and often are even unaware of the non-level playing field that they have elected to live on. While the local politicians routinely buy votes for a few hundred euros each, making a mockery of the democratic process, many of the foreigners refuse to join in or belong. ‘We don’t know the issues’ they say pathetically.
One day, we should all rise up and boycott the local businesses, just to show our strength; but as someone remarks on the same thread on the abovementioned forum, most of the foreigners here wouldn’t want to do such a thing. After all, they say weakly as they finger their little yellow triangles, it’s not our place… all things considered, we’re just guests here.
Which is why, dear friends, our mayoress is the way she is. She has nothing to fear from us.