Events: The DELE exam
Thursday, May 12, 2005
The exam I've spent the last 2-1/2 months preparing for? Happens tomorrow. The starting gun goes off around 8:30, it should all be over but the sobbing by 3. (Or so. More or less.)
women babes at the language school I've lounged about during these many weeks of pain and suffering classes have given us three old versions of the exam, each more difficult than the last. At least for me. Could be gathering fatigue played a part in that, I can't say. God knows, I'll be happy to see the backside of this happening. Not that I'll be skipping around ripping off my clothes and tossing down vats of high-octane sangria afterward, mind you. It'll just be nice to be under less pressure, with less work to do. I say 'less' instead of 'no' pressure because I've apparently decided to continue with classes in the week ahead, though at half the current load. God forbid I be able to relax and sleep in for a few days. Harrumph.
Er, where was I? Ah, right -- the important bit is that I passed all three dry-run exams, as did the other two members of the group who will be testing with me. Meaning the odds of making it through tomorrow's joyful hours with a passing grade are probably not bad.
The bugger is going to happen at the centuries-old Universidad de Alcalá, a half-hour train ride to the east of Madrid. I have no intention of dragging myself out from under the covers at 6 a.m. or earlier so that I can elbow my way through rush hour, grab an early train and stagger to the examination site frothing at the mouth, which means I'll be hopping a train in a couple of hours to spend the night in Alcalá and show up at the exam reasonably well-rested, mentally prepared, blah blah blah.
Back online sometime post-event.
Seen this morning on the sidewalk along la Calle de Hortaleza, Madrid:
Friday, May 13, 2005
That exam I've been going on about? That DELE bastard, the one starting at 8:30 a.m., supposedly ending around 3 p.m.? Actual running time: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Details will follow once I've recovered my sense of humor.
Last night -- the Cervantes House, Alcalá de Henares:
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.
Monday, May 16, 2005
And then the alloted time expired, papers were collected, the room emptied out. (Except for the Arab fella, who remained hunched over his desk working feverishly away, producing strident sighs of anxious protest as one of the facilitators stood by him, waiting.)
We'd been told the last part of the exam, the oral, speechifying part, would happen somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 or 3:30, giving us a little more than an hour and a half for an over-lunch post-mortem of the experience so far. Lunch, test, head home in time to beat rush hour On the way out of the building, C., A. and I saw that the times for the oral exam had been posted, which is when we discovered that the oral exam began at 3, with one person going every fifteen minutes. We'd been scheduled last, starting with me at 6:15. Meaning five long hours of waiting. FIVE. FREAKIN'. HOURS.
Lunch got eaten. The day to that point got picked apart. The center of Alcalá got wandered around in. Time got killed.
Until I finally found myself in the exam room with the two facilitators from the earlier in the day. The two I'd had to ask to quiet down. Didn't see any evidence of resentment (for which I gave silent thanks), just the slightest tinge of boredom, though they did their best to project positive, encouraging energy. One sat behind to my rear taking notes, the other sat at a desk in front of me, interacting, giving instructions.
The instructions: Talk. First about anything I felt like. Then they presented me with two photocopied images, I had to describe them, come up with a relationship between them. Then they presented me with a sheet of paper containing three quotes -- my job: pick one, expound on it.
By this time -- after a long, long day of hilarity, everything building up to this final stage of the experience -- so much adrenaline was shooting through my system that I realized talking was not going to be my problem. Trying to get me to shut me up would be the problem. At some point the examiner behind the desk realized just that, realized that he was trapped in a room with a furriner so intensely wired that the result would be hours, days, possibly weeks of unstoppable, high-speed blathering if he didn't take some action, at which time a fleeting look of terror crossed his face before he composed himself and leaped in, stopping me, moving things along.
I finished up. My classmates finished up. We bolted, making our way through the town's Friday evening bustle, pleased at being out and free.
The train ride. The Metro ride. When I emerged from underground, the streets of Madrid lay damp from recent rain, alive with people getting the weekend underway.
That was Friday.
Saturday: I drifted, dealing with having no deadline, no studying, with the sudden disappearance of pressure. Spent the entire afternoon in front of the 'puter. Ate. Ate some more. Went out, late afternoon, spent a couple of hours with a lovely woman, E. [see entry of May 3], doing the intercambio thing. On the way home, received a call from Jorge, [see entry of May 1] -- he who has connected me with a sizeable circle of people -- inviting me to a wingding. (The classic my-parents-are-away-let's-party scenario. Jorge is 36.) A short time later, I stood in his kitchen nursing a beer, Jorge making a salad, another friend cooking up eggs with garlic and kiwi (works out much better than it sounds), other folks about, conversation zipping around the room. By midnight, I sat with 11 people in the living room, gelati being eaten, the music getting loud and weird. Two of Jorge's cousins arrived, one turned out to be an AC/DC fanatic. An AC/DC disc quickly flew into the stereo, the volume loud enough to register on the Richter scale. Followed by the Village People. (Why the Village People? Who knows?) Also at high volume, Jorge and his cousins doing scary disco-style gyrations. At 1:40 a.m., half of those in attendance took advantage of a lull in the soundtrack to take off, I followed a minute or two later, finding myself back out in Madrid's crowded Saturday night streets, glad to be in the middle of it all, moving gradually in the direction of home, bed, sleep.
Sunday: Drifted more. Recused myself from social hooha. Got less sleep than I would have preferred. Ate. Noticed I seemed to be slowly recovering weight lost during the last couple of weeks of work/study. As insurance, ate some more.
Am now back into classes, the days cascading by at unnerving velocity. Madrid's summer weather has retreated a bit, the days remain beautiful, if a bit cooler. The trip back across the ocean looms ahead, eight short days away.
Eight short days. But that will be then. This is now.
Time to shut the computer off for a while. Later.