Articles Travel

Fast Train to Paris

Fast train waits patiently at Spanish station
Fast train waits patient­ly at Span­ish station

Figueres, Spain. In a mod­ern, open lounge area for trav­ellers, we sit with about 100 oth­er pas­sen­gers – some wait­ing for the Madrid train and oth­ers for the TGV – in French: train à grande vitesse (high speed train) to Paris, “The City of Light” (not only as an ear­ly cen­ter of ideas and cre­ativ­i­ty, but as the first munic­i­pal­i­ty in Europe to illu­mi­nate its main streets with gas lamps). With my lim­it­ed lug­gage posi­tioned like a fortress in front of me, I’m scrunched up on a minia­ture plas­tic seat com­pos­ing an email on my iPhone’s tiny key­board as Stephen offers our seats to an old­er cou­ple. Fair enough. We move and I fin­ish my mes­sage lean­ing against a near­by con­crete wall.

TGV logo
TGV logo

In about forty long min­utes the board­ing process will begin — enough time to sur­vey my inter­est­ing fel­low voy­agers. The air we share oozes with antic­i­pa­tion and emo­tion. Every being here epit­o­mizes “tran­si­tion” – even those who will remain behind after the train and their companion(s) depart. As I watch intense body lan­guage and trans­par­ent facial expres­sions, my imag­i­na­tion strug­gles to under­stand these diverse indi­vid­u­als in close view.

  • The tired old­er cou­ple that grate­ful­ly sat down in our seats lis­tens patient­ly as the sta­tion agent appears to ques­tion their tick­ets. Clear­ly some prob­lem exists. Per­haps they did not pay the cor­rect price? Their reser­va­tion indi­cates anoth­er day? Agi­ta­tion and con­fu­sion prevail.
  • A tall white woman lov­ing­ly cra­dles a tiny black infant in her arms, as lug­gage and baby para­pher­na­lia sur­round her. She appears com­plete­ly immersed in her own world, obliv­i­ous to oth­ers. How will she man­age on the train with­out anyone’s help? Has she adopt­ed this child in Spain or anoth­er coun­try or is it her own? What future awaits them both?
  • Two anony­mous females stand close togeth­er com­plete­ly cov­ered head-to-toe in dark loose-fit­ting gar­ments and pat­terned head shawls reveal­ing only their eyes; each push­es a baby in a pram and totes lug­gage at her side. My mind freezes as I try to per­ceive their sit­u­a­tion. Are they sis­ters? Why trav­el­ling with­out husbands/partners? A line forms for secu­ri­ty clear­ance; I am close enough to see ten­sion and fear in their eyes.
  • A strong, white-haired man kiss­es a thir­ty-some­thing youth (his son?) good­bye on both cheeks and then places his hand gen­tly on the back and face of a severe­ly dis­abled man in a wheel­chair (his younger son?). The scene of “loss” pierces my heart as I sup­pose this gen­tle man is say­ing good-bye to not just one son, but two, with­out know­ing when they will meet again. As the “father” turns away, tears driz­zle from his eyes; he quick­ly brush­es them away with the back of his hand. I, a com­plete stranger, want to reach out and com­fort him, but do not want to over­step cul­tur­al or emo­tion­al bound­aries. What will he do after he leaves this train sta­tion – this lob­by where every­one lit­er­al­ly tran­sits from one place to anoth­er, phys­i­cal­ly and sure­ly emo­tion­al­ly, too? What­ev­er their rela­tion­ships, these younger male pas­sen­gers clear­ly mean some­thing to this old­er man. How will he cope with their absence?

Such brief obser­va­tions rep­re­sent only one scene in one train sta­tion in one town in one coun­try. Although sep­a­rat­ed by lan­guage, reli­gion, and cul­ture, all of us in la estacíon de TGV today share a com­mon vision of trans­porta­tion, if not des­ti­na­tion. The more I trav­el, the more I sense the com­mon­al­i­ties among peo­ple far out­weigh the dif­fer­ences. And just maybe the most valu­able lan­guage of all becomes the abil­i­ty to under­stand and inter­pret non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion – often more hon­est and true than words in any tongue.

 Bear relaxes until speed hits 245 km/h on TGV
Bear relax­es until speed hits 245 km/h on TGV

© Copy­right 2013 by Rita Costick


2 replies on “Fast Train to Paris”

I think I’m going to go out today & buy a LARGE map of Europe & hang it on my wall. Then I can fol­low your trips with a dif­fer­ent col­ored mag­ic mark­er after each of your posts. I know you include a map on each of your posts, but I think this will enable me to fol­low your excit­ing jour­ney, even bet­ter (& maybe I’ll even learn some geog­ra­phy !, LOL).

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