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Sunday, May 15, 2005


Thursday evening: stuffed books, pens, etc. into my bag along with the handful of things I'd need to survive an overnight stay outside the city, then headed out.

Did the Metro ride. Did the train ride. Stumbled out at the last stop with the rest of the post-workday stragglers, found myself in Alcalá de Henares, one of Madrid's bedroom communities -- birthplace of Cervantes (he of Don Quixote fame), home to an old, old university and a city center of narrow streets lined with lovely ancient buildings whose rooftops, turrets and towers provide nesting spots for a startling abundance of storks.

Left the train station, a rainbow extended up into the sky ahead as I made my way toward the center. An omen, I hoped.

Wandered about 'til I found the hostal, checked in. Dumped my bag in my room. Checked out the view from the bathroom window (complete with nesting stork), noted that the hideyhole I'd been given lay directly above the kitchen of the hostal's restaurant, hoped the clear sounds of food prep. and dishes being washed wouldn't be too intrusive when the time for shuteye arrived. Shrugged, headed out. Walked local streets, found a friendly-looking neighborhood tavern that provided a surprisingly good dinner, headed back to the hostal.

Watched a little TV, did a little studying. Found myself drifting off to sleep, killed the lights, closed my eyes. At which time the kitchen crew began heaving around dishes, cutlery, lead weights, and what sounded like oversized barnyard animals. When they knocked off around 1 a.m. and went home, they left some machines going whose clear mission was to make sure no one within earshot got any sleep. Out of sheer spite, I managed to squeeze out three or four restless hours' worth anyway before giving up around 6 a.m. Turned on the lights, cracked the books for a last-minute cram session.

Shaved, showered, spied on the neighboring stork as morning light gathered. Checked out of the hostal early enough to track down newspaper, caffeine and get to the exam on time. Found caffeine with no problem, though an extended wander produced no newspaper kiosks (a major contrast to their abundance here in Madrid). The caffeine-dispensing counter help directed me to a newsagent's shop a fair hike in the wrong direction from where I wanted to go. Made the detour, picked up paper, hustled to the university, found the exam room. Walked in, found myself the only honky among a crowd of Asian 20-somethings, not exactly what I'd been expecting. Settled into a seat to the rear, paged through what passes as news as the place filled up (more Asians, a handful of other honkies, a young black woman, a 30ish Arab guy). C. and A., my two companions from these last many weeks of classes, appeared a few minutes after my arrival, fresh off the train from Madrid. C. sat to my right, A. a couple of seats ahead.

The two exam facilitators eventually showed, a male and a female, late 20s -- teaching assistants, maybe. Or perhaps actual professors -- don't know. Forms were handed out, instructions given, along with an admonition about them not being able to stop the exam once started. They handed out answer forms for the first two parts of the exam (reading comprehension, composition), told us to begin. C. let them know they'd forgotten to hand out the question booklets. The exam that could not be stopped briefly stopped, booklets got distributed.

The Arab guy to my left turned out to be a bundle of loudly complaining nerves, producing sounds of frustration and unhappiness, muttering to himself, at times humming tensely. The soundtrack eventually subsided, replaced by a stream of physical tics so relentless I had to turn away from him to be able to focus.

Two hours later -- a span of time that skidded by at near light speed, me not feeling as organized as I would have preferred -- time was called, answer forms/booklets collected. A half hour break streaked past, followed by the exam's next two elements. The first: oral comprehension, consisting of four taped segments played on a boombox at the front of the room. During the pause after the second segment, a cellphone rang. A 20-something woman in front of me, Eastern European, leaned over, looked at hers, reached down, stopped the ringing. A moment later it rang again, she picked it up and answered, everyone else staring in amazement. She told the caller she was in an exam, hung up, one of the facilitators asked her to shut the phone off. Life went on.

During the grammar/vocabulary section -- intense, requiring concentration -- the two facilitators sat at the front of the class, conversing in whispers. Loud, sibilant whispers that began to drive me right out of my teeny little mind, going on for ten, fifteen minutes, until I got their attention and put my finger to my lips in a request for quiet. Conversation stopped, one of them left, silence descended, punctuated now and then by sounds of distress from the Arab male to my left.

[continued in next entry]

Madrid, te quiero.

rws 6:45 AM [+]

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