Proud to announce guest blogger Clea making her first appearance here at Blog about Spain. In the following couple of texts, Clea, an English teacher, will take us through a Summer day in the university at Madrid, the Universidad Complutense. In this first part, we’ll find out about some of the interesting history of the place, among other things. Enjoy!
The first of July. I have one last class out at the university, at 8:30. The subway workers havebeen on strike since Monday though, the city pretty well collapsed, especially on the past twodays when they decided to not even provide minimum services, so more people drove to work, the buses were packed, the streets jammed. Today, Thursday, they promised that the service would be up to 50%. But I decided not to take any chances. I get up 30 minutes early to take two buses.
Not that I really mind. It’s much more pleasant to look out a bus window than sit in thesubway trying not to stare too fixedly at the person sitting opposite. The best part about the subway is that you don’t have to spend too much time on it.
And this morning gets off to a good start. The day will be hot but at 7:30 AM, it’s cool andfresh and promising. The neighborhood streets are quiet, and there are just a few people at the stop. A short wait, the bus arrives; I get a seat. The No. 16 has to cross the Castellana, the city’s main artery, but even there traffic continues to move smoothly. The bus is fairly full by the end of the line, but it’s not uncomfortably so. We reach the end of the line and I hurry acouple of blocks to pick up the bus that will take me to the university. The G arrives. It’s thefirst stop, and there are only 6 people ahead of me. It’s now 8:10. I have plenty of time.
A short ride past the ugly, empty, underused (never used?) Arch of Triumph, around a widetraffic circle and then onto the main avenue. The Avenida Complutense is broad and straight. The two lanes for cars in either direction are separated by a central division planted with hardy bushes, and broken up with pedestrian crossings and traffic lights. A fine introduction to the original, rationally planned origins of the university. One can imagine Alfonso XIII confidently decreeing the university into existence. His dream was to unify the reigning chaos of the time,with classes scattered around the city in manors and small palaces that had been bought upby the government. On paper, the Avenida is a stately neo-classical guide leading studentsthrough the gates of learning. The reality?
In 1936, the ambitious project was dragged to a halt. The barely-hallowed halls were the center of heavy fighting during the Battle for Madrid. Library books were burned for warmth and no doubt made decent pillows if wrapped in a shirt or jacket. The International Brigades were housed in the School of Philosophy; the Avenue itself was the dividing line between Republican and National troops.
The tragic result was that, by the end of the Civil War three years later, the university was in ruins. Rebuilding began in the early Forties. While most of the original buildings retainedtheir Bauhaus-influenced design, the newer faculties were built in the more monumental style favored during the long Franco era. Walking there today, one can appreciate the leveling hand of democracy, visible everywhere. The student body presents the same mish-mash of looks, outfits, statements of idealogy as anywhere else: harem pants, dreadlocks, mini-skirts, ripped jeans, oddly placed piercings, and nowadays too headscarves. Do they even notice the stone columns topped with the eagle which seem to be the only visible trace left of the long post-war period?