Driving through Central European border crossings does have its moments, rather memorable ones at times. Whenever we set off on such a trek, I have enough knitting yarn, needles and WIPS (that’s work in progress for those who don’t speak knitting) to sustain me no matter what eventualities we might encounter. Not for nothing was I a Girl Guide in my dim and distant youth, so Be Prepared! is my motto. Well, at least where knitting is concerned.
One particular trip required more complicated packing than usual as several stages were involved. A friend who divides his time between homes in Austria and Greece was to accompany us on the drive, and after we had spent a couple of days with him and his wife in the Austrian Tyrol, we were to fly on to Texas from Zurich.
Our airplane baggage was carefully packed, locked and secured to the roof luggage rack, ready to be checked in at the airport; the overnight bags and other travel needs were stowed in the car. We set off from the Pelion at daybreak, heading to FYROM/Macedonia with hubby driving at this point and me in the passenger seat surrounded by various knitting bags, our friend in the back, surrounded by various knitting bags. Uncomplaining, good soul that he is.
Knitters will understand that the choice of a knitting project for long journeys can become quite complicated, depending on the knitter’s preferences. In my case, involved projects are reserved for plane trips and overnight stays. For the long drives through countries where the use of phrase books and hand gestures might be needed the knitting is simple, the better to keep my eyes firmly fixed on the road.
Circular needles are the knitter’s friend here as round and round I knit, and round and round I peer, ever vigilant. This amuses my husband greatly, but I am unfailingly prepared. Who knows if a situation might arise where I will frantically knit details of the incident into my work, in code of course, to be deciphered by those unravelling the mystery of our disappearance. I’ve learnt a thing or two from Madame Defarge!
And so it was that we three left FYROM/Macedonia, drove through no-man’s land and arrived at Serbian Customs. A long line of vehicles, as far as the eye could see, stretched depressingly before us. Our friend has been making this journey for many years, far more than we; he cursed roundly in a number of languages. “Ach!” he exclaimed. “This has happened to me a few times – they decide to do an extremely thorough search. They will open everything! We will be here for hours!” I knitted furiously in the passenger seat. In front of us cars and buses had offloaded mountains of luggage, among which disconsolate passengers stood in groups, waiting to be interrogated by officials. One tearful young woman was wringing her hands as each item was lifted out of her case and examined minutely. “Holy cow!” I grumbled. “They will open our bags and you know how long it will take to pack everything back in properly before the flight.”
“You can repack it all tonight in the hotel,” soothed my husband, “we’ll soon be in Belgrade.”
I knitted up a storm.
To our right was a sort of watchtower structure occupied by a large figure in grey uniform, complete with peaked cap and red epaulettes – typical garb of the Soviet era. The person began to climb down the steps, and I saw that it was a woman. A woman of slow, purposeful movement and very forbidding demeanour. She approached the car, stern of face, and gestured to me to open the window, speaking rapidly in Serbian. All I could understand was “Baggahjes! Baggahjes!”, but there was no mistaking the peremptory gesture at the suitcases on the roof. My heart sank. Suddenly she stood stock still, then moved to my open window and reached inside. She was smiling broadly! She laughed happily as she picked up my knitting, a boy’s sweater, and held it to her, fingering the work and pointing at the stripes. More rapid speech of which the only word that meant anything was “Plekta! Plekta!” And then I understood, because the Greek word for knitting is very similar – she was a knitter, a kindred spirit.
She handed me my knitting, patted my hands, and stepped back. “Auf Wiedersehen! Auf Wiedersehen!” she beamed, making a sweeping gesture to indicate that we should move out of line and bypass the waiting vehicles, which stretched at least a kilometre. We were, to put it mildly, stunned, as were the dozens of people we swept past.
And for the rest of that journey, whenever we approached a border post, our friend who had been amazed and delighted at this encounter, would sing out: “The knitting, Cathy! Hold up the knitting!”