Friday, January 12, 2007

What ora is it?

Starting to think my life was boring, Italy stepped in to shake things up a little. Originally my art history exam was slated for Wednesday at high noon. Incapable of getting up past 7.45, I was in the neighbourhood of the Physics building where my exam would take place and decided to check on the announcement board to see what was up. My exam was there, announcing a 10am beginning. Luckily, I thought, it’s only 9.45 and I can make it back here and kick this exam’s ass earlier than I thought. Heh, I thought wrong.

So there was no sign of the professor after an hour and since I was done fiddling with my computer and my glorious connection to the Internet, I went home for a bit before returning at noon. At this point I waited for about 20 minutes and thought, since I am registered in the 12th position, maybe I should just come back at 2 or so after having eaten. I assumed that the professor would just be going in order, would be operating in some sort of logical American way. Needless to say I thought wrong.

I arrived at 2 to a full classroom and an overspill of eager exam takers. I was to learn that the professor had divided the group in two and would be redoing the exam again tomorrow at 10. See, the thing is, I already had an exam scheduled for the next morning at 9, and my sense of Italian timing told me that I would not be done by 10. Deciding I needed to study, I decided to tempt fate and Italian timing. I was in the second position for the other exam and, by the looks of the proceedings with the art history prof, I would be fine arriving a bit late.

9 am rolled around Thursday morning and still no sign of anyone. Of course. The professor showed up a little later, took attendance, split the group up (because two of his classes were meeting for an exam at the same time) and went to make photocopies. 5 minutes he said. 25 minutes later the exams began. How long could an exam take? My literature exam on Tuesday had only taken about 30 minutes. 50 minutes later, out comes the first exam-taker and in I go, only to be interrupted by two people looking for the professor. By this time its about 1030 (I don’t know if the times add up, but if you’re keeping track, who are you, American?). I just focus take the exam, and kick ass. Once the libretto is signed to track the result of my oral exam, I run over to the other building to take my art history exam.

Of course, I’m not late. I walk in to sit down in and watch as some poor Italian girl talks her way through Pop Art. Right, this exam was public. Public meaning that all those waiting to take the exam sit in a stadium type classroom (think auditorium but with desks too… oy I suck at description). There were a good 10 people to go before me, I was last. How long could it take? I was hoping to have a victory lunch with my dear roommate Sarah but as 1 rolled around and hunger was fat but hope was slim, I decided instead to get a slice of pizza and try to wait it out.

And then there was this girl. This girl knew nothing. This girl neglected the fact that World War I was happening during 1916. This girl thought there was a war going on instead in 1909. This girl couldn’t explain cubism, futurism or dada for the life of her, calling on Marcel Duchamp as an example of each movement. Futurism was an Italian art movement. Duchamp was French. It was torture. I wondered how the hell it was possible that such a person could be confident to take an exam. The silence in the room killed us all as this girl claimed surrealism desire to rationalize the unconscious. I would have sent this girl away after the first question, but the professor was patient… for 40 minutes… and then failed her.

There were wonderfully competent Italian students who simply wowed me but there were so many who showed such lack of studying. The thing is with these exams is that you don’t necessarily have to go to class at all to take them. One would think that such people would prepare. But we’re talking about Italy here.

So 2 o’clock rolled around and we all took a break. I went home to take my laundry out of the washing machine and get a snack to quit me from going nuts. I had been nervous all day and this prolongation of tension wasn’t helping me at all. By this time I was tired, exhausted and wasn’t sure I knew any contemporary art history any more. The thing is with public exams is that you hear the questions and responses of everyone who goes before you. Unfair? I think so. Whatever. Where are we? Italy.

And it wouldn’t be Italy without your professor’s cell phone ringing and her having a conversation in front of the class. At a certain point, I was positively going insane. Perhaps I knew the answers to these questions and wanted to get my word in. I was smiling a lot (and I think the professor is kind of fascinated with me… the Canadian kid, he’s so weird) and she talked about the ragazzo americano to whoever she was talking to and I smiled and saluted. Il ragazzo americano ti saluta.

This is getting sort of long. So basically by 5pm I was out. I had spent more or less 6 hours waiting for my exam to be over. Lots of stress, lots of patience, shows of absolute incompetence, temporary insanity. I don’t know how the Italians do it. Talking with the professor after the exam I think she put it best. Questa e un sistema diverso. This is a different system. Sure is. It’s a different world.

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