Sunday, October 16, 2005

The sky is not falling in

Bondi’s leg not in great shape: injectable glucosamine is not available in Spain, and even oral forms are prohibitively expensive. Quite a change from Oz or Britain, where it’s on sale at every pharmacy, supermarket and health-food store. Still, his mood his good, and he got a lot of attention from city officials and journalists (periodistas) when I left him outside a bookstore to hunt down text-books. Every few minutes someone with official decoration trooped into the store to ask ¿De qué raza es? i.e ¨What breed (race) is it?” I kept hoping someone was going to offer help locating English-language texts for learning Spanish. When I looked up once, he was encircled by policia and TV camera-men exclaiming: ¡Precioso! ¡Muy bonito! ¡Guapo!

Although Salamanca is the place for learning Spanish (Castilian), none of the bookstores have cottoned on to the fact that students are looking for suitable texts and dictionaries. So there’s plenty of Spanish-only books, or texts in Spanish for those learning English, and a handful of slim tourist phrase books, but nothing much else. FWIW a dictionary that says Español-Inglés / Inglés-Español is not the same as an English-Spanish /Spanish-English dictionary. Basically the language on the cover reflects the mother-tongue of the intended reader…and this means that in the former text, you won’t get Spanish irregular verbs or pronouns etc, as it assumes you know those, whereas it will have the corresponding English terms. Examples, and further explication of terms are also given in Spanish throughout. Special tables of terminology are also provided for the benefit of the estudiante de inglés and not for the student of Spanish. As it happened, after 9 bookstores’ worth of shrugs or lectures delivered at the rate of a horse-race caller, #10 finally delivered unto me an assistant with some English, who went rummaging in a back-room and brought back C & T Kendris’ wonderful 501 Spanish Verbs and (by different authors) a Basic Grammar of the Spanish Language.

Later this morning I saw a copy of the new Asterix book: Asterix and the Falling Sky (English) or ¡El Cielo Se Nos Cae Encima!(Spanish: I think this reads as The Sky is Falling On Us!, or word-for-word The Sky it Us Falls On!).
Those familiar with the series will remember that Chief Vitalstatistix is only afraid of the sky falling on his head … surely a theme which is ripe for political satire in our age of terrorist paranoia and political hysteria, even if the author only played with it through the prism of cold war mantras like “duck and cover”. However I have Jefe Abraracúrcix (I haven’t figured out the pun yet), and a flick through the text shows a Superman-like figure, some cockroach-like aliens (do they do the cucucaracha?) and some Smurfy-looking creature. Now I’ve gone back to the beginning to read it, and am making annotations on a spare endpaper where I can’t figure out terms from context.

The other “translation-zone” is TV/movies. I sometimes hear these in my hosts’ lounge. In Spain, you don’t get subtitles, voices are always dubbed, sometimes more successfully than others… For instance, the main character voices from The Simpsons approximate the originals, but others are just plain weird. Also, it’s possible for the dubbing to be simply done over the original (volume-reduced) soundtrack, so fragments of English may still be picked up in the interstices. Generally though I dislike dubbing because (1) it doesn’t synchronize with lips (or even the right mouth sometimes); (2) the voices may not be dubbed at volumes that respect positioning of characters, or that allow incidental noises to be heard; (3) inappropriate voices or bad voice-acting.

I don’t mind dubbing so much with animated films although (3) can still be a problem. In any case, you will rarely see VO (Version Originale) films in Spain, where the local language is subtitled. I found this to be quite common in France, although when I saw LOTR: The Two Towers and The Pianist in Paris in 2002, I had to deal with respectively, Elvish and German, being subtitled in French, so I had little idea of what was said in those scenes.

With DVDs the issue is inverted with respect to Spanish and French movies. The Spanish seem to add English and other subtitles, whereas the French (if they can even be bothered releasing their films domestically or internationally on DVD) will never add English subtitles. In a number of cases I have found French films released on DVD in English or Spanish-speaking markets, but without a domestic release.

Dropped into the local Carrefour hypermarket this afternoon to search for a few items. It’s not as big as the one I encountered in Nice last month, but it’s certainly more comprehensive than the neighbourhood supermercados. The breakfast cereal and biscuit aisles were much smaller than I’d expect in a store this size, but this was balanced by a separate aisle for sweet-breads and similar items. As in France, not many sliced bread loaf options, but plenty of jamon (ham) action in the meat section. I think English-language pop/rock was all I heard, although the CD section was balanced between Hispanic and International (read: English-language) artists. I had a few laughs when looking through the DVD racks: Neverending Story is ------- Interminable, and part of the Highlander plot is given away by the new title Los Inmortals. It reminds me of a Brian Aldiss novel that got retitled for US release many years ago, with a new title that completely gave away the final chapter plot-twist.

Stepped out after 9 to view the city from the old Roman Bridge (as opposed to the new one that they never got around to…) on the southern periphery. I’d caught my first glimpse of this, preferred view of the city while following a circuitous traffic diversion this afternoon: the assembled leaders had begun to disperse in broken chains of limos and police escorts.

As I write, I’m listening to Horowitz’s disc of Scarlatti, one of my desert island discs. Scarlatti, another of Spain’s celebrated Italians*, was born in the same year as Bach and Handel. In the service of the King of Spain he composed 550 keyboard sonatas, drawing extensively on the dances and rhythms of his adopted country. Horowitz’s disc is a string of 18 flawless pearls.

* Columbus being the premier example. Curiously though, I have yet to see a single Scarlatti disc in a Salamanca music store. His music has also been frequently transcribed for guitar, and it sits very comfortably there. If you take a disc of these to your desert island, I may come to visit.

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