The first class compartment was old, but still in good shape. The red plush seats were firm, over the back of each bench seat a mirror ran from side to side with hooks at each end for hanging outerwear. Overhead ample metal racks kept possessions out from under foot and permitted the use of each of the six seats if the train was full. The compartment was comfortable and organized and it felt like a train heading south from Paris should feel: romantic and timeless.
We were on a whirlwind trip to the Dordogne, the home of rich country pate and strong local wines. It was a thirty-six hour odyssey to attend the international publication event for a best-selling novelist’s first work in twelve years and we would spend more time traveling to and from our destination than we would actually spent at our destination.
I was traveling with a colleague, a good-looking man about my same age with whom I was only somewhat acquainted. We were traveling with polite deference toward each other, not sure of each other’s likes and dislikes, but determined to be polite and professional. I did know that he was very much looking forward to the fine wines and heavy meals the next few hours were sure to bring.
The train compartment was not ours alone. At the first stop out of Paris, two older women joined us. The women seemed to be of the same age, hair greyed with the passing years. They were wearing comfortable traveling clothes and carrying shopping bags and I was quite sure they had gone to Paris to visit family and to purchase the kinds of things not offered in their local shops. My rusty French was adequate to exchange amiable greetings and then we rode on in silence.
Knitting in front of business associates always makes me feel exposed, vulnerable. How can you take someone seriously who is holding needles attached to a ball of string. The train swung gently back and forth and the movement was irresistible. Four hours in a train, four hours with nothing to busy my hands, four hours just ideal for contented and reflective knitting. The train rolled on and each passing minute was a lost opportunity. What a waste to sit staring alternately at the pages of a book and the passing scene from the window. How perfect to feel the soft wool flow through my fingers as I knit my way south through France. To gaze out the window at fields and woods, small towns whizzing past and feel the fabric grow beneath my fingers, the train and the knitting forming the best of partnerships. It was too much for me, I had to succumb.
I opened my work bag and with a defiant flourish pulled forth my knitting. My colleague looked over and blinked with surprise to see needles and string, not a manuscript, emerge from my bag. My hands quickly found their comfortable position and I sighed out loud with happiness. “Vous aimez tricoter?” the lovely musical french phrase broke my trance. “Pardon?” Rusty linguistic skills don’t fail me now… “Vous aimez tricoter?” the woman across from me wearing a brown cardigan repeated her question with a clear nod to the work in my hands. “Ah, oui. Je l’aime beaucoup.”
With warm smiles, both women opened their own carry on bags and brought forth needles and yarn. Age and linguistic barriers began slowly to crumble beneath shared interests. Knitting and chatting, the miles flew by as we discussed our projects and I slowly learned the vocabulary to go with our common passion. There is a language shared throughout the world by all who love the process of creation with yarn and needles. It is a common tongue whenever both are present.