Deciphering the DaVinci Code
Call me a goober, but one of the things I was looking forward to here in Tanzania was the easy availability - actually the abundance - of bootleg DVDs. Sure, there is a movie theatre here which plays first-run films (both Western and Indian). And yes, I know I'm letting down my friends in the movie industry by paying for unauthorized copies of films and driving down salaries and profit as a result. Thank you ma'am, for pointing out that I could be arrested upon my return home should I show up with a big bag of bootleg films. But I'm willing to take these chances... film industry and customs and immigration officials be damned.
Try not to begrudge me this simple pleasure. It's not like I can survive on Seinfeld re-runs alone.
In preparation for buying bootleg films I bought a special "universal" DVD player before I left Washington. This DVD player just arrived here with my air shipment and I finally connected it to my TV and confirmed that it can at least play DVDs of Elmo and Dora the Explorer ("Dorla" as Rowan calls her) over the weekend.
Just as an aside, I bet some of you aren't aware that there are 5 zones for DVDs. US DVD players only play zone 1. If you want to be able to watch any DVD you can do it on your computer or buy a universal one. (Although someone told me that especially electronically inclined people can mess with the settings of most DVD players so that they can play multiple zones, but it is a highly held secret, known mostly to MIT students and people from India.)
Before the DVD player arrived, I had looked longingly at the guys (all guys) who walk around outdoor restaurants and markets selling bootleg DVDs. These guys specialize in "composite" DVDs - usually 5 or 6 films with a connecting theme, all on the same DVD. I've seen Arnold Swartzenegger composites, composites of Nigerian and Indian films, a composite of Friday the 13th films, and even an Eddy Murphy composite. It is one-stop shopping for all your favorite action adventures - all for the low price of $4 for a single film and $8 for a composite DVD. The film covers are often at least half in Chinese, Hindi or some Eastern European Language... but the DVDs inside promise an English language tracks and English subtitles.
In particular, I had been eyeing The DaVinci Code. As bad as the reviews were I still wanted to see the film. And frankly, although I know it is an unpopular opinion, I really enjoyed reading the book. I was curious. And so Saturday afternoon, while I was out shopping for vegetables in my local market, I purchased The DaVinci Code. The cover was mostly in Chinese. I took it home. Sunday night after the kids went to sleep I filled a big glass of water and poured a big bowl of fruit salad and sat in front of the TV with tremendous anticipation of the thrilling DaVinci evening ahead of me.
But the whole damn thing was in Chinese.
The Chinese track was in Chinese. The English track was in Chinese. The French track was in Chinese. And all the subtitles were in Chinese. Shit. Evening spoiled. I looked at the cover to see if there was any indication that this whole film would be in Chinese, and I suppose I missed the signals. Besides the actual title, the only other English on the cover was a quote - the kind that usually praises a film. The quote on this cover said,
"The DaVinci Code is not nearly as bad as you've heard. It is a medium quality thriller that runs a bit long."
Not the kind of quote you expect to read on a DVD cover. It should have been my second clue.
So the next day I sent my driver, Paul, back to the market to find the guy who sold me the film. Much to my surprise, Paul was able to get him to exchange my copy of the DaVinci Code for another copy. The cover of this copy was in an Eastern European language (I think). And so Monday night, once again, I put the kids to sleep and got ready to watch. And lo and behold, the film was in English.
But the English subtitles weren't. Well... they were in the kind of non-sensical English you get when you plug a letter into one of those internet translators. They made no sense at all. And that was a bummer, because a big piece of the film is in Latin. But I kept watching. And although the quality of the DVD wasn't great (clearly filmed in a movie theatre) it was sufficient. And just when they were about to solve the DaVinci Code....
It switched into Chinese.
Clearly the code was meant for one billion Chinese people to solve.
Here in Tanzania, one English and French speaking woman - with a hint of Swahili - had to guess. And now I'm thinking... the Customs and Immigration people won't need monitor my bootleg DVD buying habits at all - at least until I learn Chinese.