Sunday, April 06, 2008

Domestic Sunday

Ah, April in Paris!

The way you envision it: Whiling away the day at a sidewalk cafe, sipping espresso, scrawling away, and whistling at the girls in short skirts who walk by.

The reality: Temperatures in the low 40s (single digits if you're of the celsius persuasion), icy cold bursts of rain, and planning for yet another day of demonstrations as the Olympic torch is set to make its way through the city. In other words, best find a way to spend the day indoors.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. I had tentatively planned to join some friends and explore the Musée d'Orsay today, but it didn't materialize. Largely because I'd spent another late night watching basketball and slept in. I had another option of joining some other friends checking out a new sports complex nearby: Track, pool, gym, etc. etc. Only in my minimal packing, the only athletic gear I've got with me are a well-worn pair of Adidas trail shoes. And so it goes...

The Incredible Shrinking Man
Maybe I don't need a gym. Despite the fact that the lowest common denominator in my diet is butter (the next lowest being meat of all sorts, followed by copious amounts of bread), I'm shrinking. Rapidly. While I'm by no means svelte, I've definitely shed more and more weight as my time in Paris has gone by. I'm a shadow of my former beer-bellied self, and my clothes are starting to get a gangsta-like bagginess to them as a result.

The solution? Laundry! By drying my clothes for more than the prescribed time, I've been able to shrink my clothes to better fit my slimmer bod. Last week, I took my woolen overcoat for a tumble, and it now fits much better. Today, I gave my hoodies the treatment and they're much more form-fitting. I look less like a kid with a bunch of hand-me-down clothes, and more like a shoddily dressed American who could at least find his way to the fitting room.

Even still, I look like an NFL linebacker compared to most of the locals. While I'm certainly outnumbered by tall and gangly types, the other Parisians still look like scrawny little stick figures next to me. This is definitely an advantage when muscling for space on a crowded Métro train or working my way to the bar to order a drink. Waifish I am not, though I have confidence that once the weather gets better, I might actually try to buy some fashionable new clothes and - god forbid - fit in them.

Cleaning Products
My bottle of Palmolive dishwashing liquid says "Dur avec la graisse, doux avec la mains." It's a direct translation of their English "Tough on grease, soft on hands" slogan. And while my hands have taken on an effeminately soft feel, my dishes and pots and pans just aren't getting clean. I washed one of my pots at least three times today, trying over and over to get the film of grease off of every surface, finding that instead, my sink was just getting greasier.

Either the dish soap here isn't as strong as the super-ultra-concentrated stuff I bought in the States, or all that butter and animal fat are sloughing off onto my crockery instead of into my veins.

I'll take the weight loss over clean pots any ol' day.

The Boob Tube
Unfortunately, unlike past weeks, the prodigious amount of walking I do hasn't been as big a factor in my fitness as I'd previously thought. What with the lousy weather, the college hoops, and general laziness I've been feeling, I haven't been getting in my weekend urban hikes as much as I'd like.

Instead, I've been watching a lot of TV.

I keep telling myself it's good for my French. I haven't turned on any of the few English-language channels I have in weeks. Instead, I've been watching the news (often repeatedly, just to get it all) in French. And I love the quiz shows. And most of all, I love the Simpsons. Or Les Simpson as it's called here.

What amazes me is that it's consistently hilarious, even when dubbed in French. Part of it is because the principle characters sound exactly like they do in the American originals. Homer sounds like Homer. Marge sounds like Marge. Bart sounds like Bart. But they're speaking French. It's fantastic, really. The French counterparts to Dan Castalenta, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardly Smith, and Harry Shearer do an amazing job of recreating the voices and audible quirks of the original cast - the dubbing is a work of art. Homer still manages to sound like a slovenly idiot. Marge has the same perpetual frog in her throat. Apu has the same heavy-handed, stereotypical Indian accent... in French.

I was wondering if this magic applies to everything. As I was taking in an episode last night, I thought, "Hmm, I wonder what the Aussies sound like in that episode where they go to Australia." As if the gods of W9 (the network that runs Les Simpson) had read my thoughts, it was the next episode to come on. (I swear, I didn't look at a TV Guide, or whatever the local equivalent of it is.)

I'm not sure of the last time I laughed so hard. Maybe it was all the wine I was drinking with dinner, but hearing French spoken with a thick Australian accent nearly had me gagging with laughter.

Unfortunately, this magic doesn't work on every level. I just finished watching an episode of one of my favorite shows, the unjustly canceled Dead Like Me. It's truly a character-driven show, and while I'm sure the translators have done a great job with the scripts, the dubbing just doesn't work. Mandy Patinkin's "Rube" character's fatherly sagacity and quiet authority came from his measured gruffness. The French overdub is smooth and all too eloquent. Ellen Muth's main character "Georgia" is the perfect outcast not only because of her funny looks, but her masculine, scratchy voice. The French version of Georgia sounds too sweet and girly.

It's for this reason that I've never liked dubbed movies. It's not a lack of synchronization or anything that puts me off, but so much of delivering a line has to do with the inflections and uniqueness of the voices of those cast to do so. With an animated series, it's different. But with live-action pieces, you need real voices to match the real people behind them. Maybe that's why so many theatres here advertise "VO" (version originale) runs of American and British movies - the original soundtrack is maintained, and subtitles are thrown on. As it should be.

Perhaps once I'm an official resident paying French taxes and voting on French laws, I'll become an activist for the eradication of dubbing. It's not that I want to hear the movies and TV shows in English - I'm perfectly fine following along in French thankyouverymuch. But for the same reason foreign movies back home are ruined by English overdubs, American stuff (though often not nearly as artful) is butchered by the local voice talent.

Hmm... the French are really into protests and strikes. Maybe by starting one, I'll get a fast track to residency. Yes, indeed, I think I may have just found myself a cause célèbre.

Les Francophones Contre le Dubbing!


  1. I agree wholeheartedly about dubbing.

    Did you know that they are making a Dead Like Me movie? I only found out a month or so ago but I'm late to the party on that one so you may know about it too. It's direct to DVD which is lame. Mandy Patinkin isn't in it so Rube is gone and the girl that played Daisy Adaire on the tv show isn't in it either but someone else is playing her in the film.

    Here's a trailer!


  2. Woah, Reggie's a little hottie now ;)

    Thanks for the link - I had no idea they were making a movie! I'm sure I'll have to scrounge like crazy (on the internet) to watch it over here. I can deal with a new Daisy, but no Rube?? Hmph. Also, I was hoping Bryan Fuller (the creator) would be on board, but it doesn't look like it.. still, I will watch!

  3. "I'm sure I'll have to scrounge like crazy (on the internet) to watch it over here."

    Wouldn't they release the DVD there as well? It's not even going to air on tv here (unless something has changed) which is just annoying! :(

    There's some more info on what's up with Dead Like me in this article
    supposedly this guy is open to restarting the tv show...check out the link to the interview with the creator though. Interesting stuff.

  4. Dubbing sucks...but on animated features it is less abhorent and I too am using the Simpsons as a learning tool. In Spain, Los Simpsons, are also more or less accurately translated in vocal timbre if not in substance.

    For example, the episode, "All's well that Roswell" was translated "Toda esta bien que Roswell" it makes no more sense than "It's good that Roswell"

    Ditto for a lot of the signs outside the churches. Humor is a tricky beast which is why American dramas, like LOST, Grey's Anatomy, CSI and the like are so popular.