Venice, FL- During my annual writer’s retreats in Florida, I always come across a gem; it may be an artist, a breeze, scuba divers or sand castle builders, students of architecture on their spring break. This is my seventh year on the Gulf Coast exploring treasures washed on sea, and not just seashells.
This year, it was the “50 Shades of Orchids” show organized by the Venice Area Orchid Society, (VAOS) an affiliate of the American Orchid Society.
The VAOS is celebrating 50 years of existence. The show is put on at the height of the tourist season and it attracts 3,500 visitors annually and premier growers.
Perhaps, the most striking upon entering the exhibit hall at the Venice Community Center was the unexpected fragrance filtering in from all corners. I am a lifelong lover and collector of these enigmatic flowers. To see the orchids displayed in all colors, shades, hybrids and varieties was stunning.
The orchid stems and spikes were bending under the weight of the magnificent blooms.
Some of the blooms looked more like the faces of animals, birds or butterflies. Others resembled spiders. The large tricolor blooms resembled the Iris or more common flowers home to northern climate zones.
Each display consisted of 50 different orchids, hybrids and species wrapped in palm greens.
The participating growers offered most orchids for sale including the ones adaptable to various climates like the cattleya, Phalaenopsis, oncidium and vanda hybrids.
My favorite is the ornate Phal that comes in many different shades. I have a nice collection of these that has grown over the years on my windowsills facing the soft northern light.
Years of experimenting have rendered valuable experience. Unlike popular belief the flower doesn’t like a lot of water, only two ounces per week, less in winter. The orchid does not like to have her feet wet. The pots with orchids should be emptied.
There are more than 25,000 orchid species in existence. However, many are being destroyed by poaching and deforestation.
The orchid society promotes conservation and educational projects. It has grown into one of the largest and most active orchid societies in Florida.
The magical orchid can also be found at the Marie Selby gardens in Sarasota, Fl.
As I start my second story, I look back at a transition time in the early 1990s as the family adjusted to life in North America. This time in Canada. It surprises me that I would like to turn back time to a difficult period in a foreign cold country, where initially I didn’t know anyone, I had no relatives there or any other bonds. I didn’t speak the language and I barely knew how to drive.
Montreal, CAN After immigrating first to the USA in 1989, our family ended up in Montreal the following year. I wanted to join my husband Ludek who got visa to Canada.
It was a long haul, both physically and mentally. The 10-hour drive on 401 through Toronto gave me a lot of time to think.
I haven’t had time to get used to the rural life in US and I was changing the path that would take me to a fully bilingual cosmopolitan city.
At first we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in LaSalle close to the Saint Lawrence River. My husband Ludek and I slept in the living room which was also the dining room separated by a bar top from the kitchen. We had an old green Chevy that my dad Vaclav gave us.
After living with my parents for six months in Big Rapids, MI I was happy I had my kitchen. I didn’t mind the smells coming from the kitchen. I love to cook. I remember the weekly trips to the grocery store. We examined each item twice before it got thrown into the cart. We retrieved some of them later in the next aisle and put them back on the shelf.
And it was chicken and chicken again; once roasted, at other times fried, curried or on paprika with sauce and dumplings. Ludek’s friends from Slovakia did the same.
“I’ve had enough of your chicken,” yelled Willi at his brother Joe. “Can’t you cook something else?”
“I could but it’s expensive,” said Joe puffing on his cigarette while he stirred the chicken on paprika.
We made many friends in Montreal. The province of Quebec welcomed immigrants from all over the world.
Days went by fast. I went to COFI, the French Immersion School sponsored by the Quebec government full-time. It was a six month-long intensive course with six hours of French daily. We didn’t have to pay a dime to learn a foreign language. On the other hand, we got paid to go to the French school.
It was a very social and productive time in life. I met Judith from Slovakia and Emil from Rumania, people from Bulgaria, Africa, Japanese and Russians as well as people from all walks of life.
We nurtured our immigrations dreams together side by side sitting in desks with doctors, surgeons, poets, writers, musicians, healers, programmers, factory workers, teachers and stay-at-home moms.
It was at this course that I learnt how to teach languages immersion style.
We were not allowed to speak any other language than French, which was for the better of it, because we wouldn’t be able to understand each other.
We had to act out little scenes from life. I remember I did not want to act in the doctor’s office scene, because I am afraid of doctors and the Rumanian guy Emil liked me way too much.
Ludek worked at a Czech chemical company called Anachemia. Actually, most Czech and Slovak immigrants worked there. I worked in their branch for a while packing medical supplies. This is where I met Liba from the same Walachia region that I came from in Czechoslovakia. We would have probably never met in our homeland and out of all the places in the world, we ran into each other at a factory in Montreal.
We had no mortgage, so we could go skiing in the Laurentian Mountains or drive to Toronto to see a lifelong acquaintance from Technical University of Brno, Dana Pastorcakova who was also from Walachia.
Only, now 20 years later I realize, that it was an advantage not to have a mortgage, because it is what it means.
“Mortgage is a death pledge,” said real estate instructor and broker for Westdale.
Times would prove him right during the mortgage/economic crisis in the mid to late 2000s. My artist friends lost their home on Long Lake.
We moved to a bigger apartment also in LaSalle close to an island in the St. Lawrence River.
“You’re living here like on a vacation,” said Liba during a visit.
I sincerely love the Frederick Meijer Gardens. They were one of three reasons why the New York Times picked Grand Rapids as no. 20 place to visit out of 52 in 2016. Do come, Grand Rapids is a vibrant city. Watch for a story about Grand Rapids on my Emma Blogs, LLC portfolio.
We recently checked in to see what was blooming and fruiting in this area of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park:
Ruellia brevifolia – Wild Tropical Petunia
Clerodendrum quadriloculare – Shooting Star
Aechmea gamosepala – Bromeliad
Clerodendrum thomsoniae – Bleeding Heart Vine
Coffea arabica – Coffee tree
We have also recently completed upgrades and renovations to our irrigation and curtain system in the Tropical Conservatory. While these changes will more than likely go unnoticed by our guests, they were much needed. Did you know that prior to these renovations, all of the…
I am running with this story now that Brno has become the 27th place in the world to visit out of 52 this year, according to New York Times.
I am very proud of this city. It has completely revamped itself from its communist mantra lasting until 1989. It is en par with the great cities of Vienna, Geneva, Prague and Budapest.
The architecture in the downtown area of Svoboda’s Square and the pedestrian zones is Art Nouveau, Empire and Neo-Classical. These styles are visible on the building of Janacek’s Academy of Music in the university district adjacent to the main square.
I was born in Brno, graduated from the Technical University of Brno in 1986 and I visited this gem in 2013. My friends live and work in Brno. I cherish the memories in my heart. Enjoy this city as much as I have.
I have safely returned home after travelling around several European countries including France, Spain, Czech Republic and Switzerland.
This is the eighth installment in my adventure travel series when I decided to step back into the past to fuel my memoir “Greenwich Meridian, where East meets West.”
Lost in Brno- Czech Republic
I had one entire day on Sept. 25th to relive it all in post-revolution Brno, while my friend Jane worked her post-revolution work for an Austrian firm.
“Just follow the tram tracks into town,” she said.
Now, that was easier said than done. Brno was and is a pulsing metropolis that has cleaned itself up, so it is completely en par with Prague, Paris and Geneva. As I got into town, I found myself caught in an entire web of pedestrian zones surrounding a big park; they all seemed to lead onto Jost Boulevard.
Lowell, MI – The January Daily Post writing prompt “If I could turn back time” hits close to home as I am writing the second half of the family immigration memoir “Greenwich Meridian.”
Whenever I sit behind the computer and think about the past, it evokes an entire spectrum of memories ranging from excellent to poor.
If there was a time machine, I would return to two big eras in my life. Chronologically speaking, first I would go back into the late 70s and mid-80s.
It was a tumultuous time in my life. In not even a decade, I managed to get married, have a first-born daughter Emma, finish prep school Gymnasium Zlin, work at a veterinarian institute and finally complete bachelor’s degree at the Technical University in Brno. I got my first car as a present from parents for graduating. It was a black Skoda Rapid LS, the sports version. What I didn’t manage to do was to get a driver’s license because of all the other studying. I regretted that later in my life when I came to the USA in the nineties.
So, why would I want to return to something as intense as the marriage while studying bundle?
There is one great reason that threaded through all that time. And those were my grandparents Anna & Joseph Drabek. They lived in Vizovice, Moravia, that is the central part of Czech Republic.
My grandpa bought a house in 1979 on the outskirts of Vizovice because he was sick of living in a tiny apartment overlooking the château park. He called the dilapidated dwelling “ranch.” It had the lucky street number 111.
That completely struck harmony with my husband Ludek and I, since we were sick of living in the massive apartment complex “Southern Slopes” that housed more than 30,000 people. These massive apartment complexes that sprang all over the Czech Republic were known as “Building successes of communism.”
People desperately tried to escape those modern concrete successes. Most often they escaped into the local pubs and breweries. The luckier ones had cottages and dwellings in the country. Thanks to my grandparents we were among the lucky ones.
And the beautiful years on the ranch ensued. It was an epic time.
Every weekend, we packed up Emma in a portable baby carry on, boarded the morning bus to Vizovice and for a while we forgot all about living in a concrete box at the concrete fort in Zlin, then Gottwaldov.
To this day, I hold Vizovice close to my heart. I went to kindergarten and first grade there and I made many friends on the street. I call them my “street friends.” We still meet when I go back on rare occasions usually for funerals.
Later with my husband, we made friends together in this plum brandy capital of the world surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. Yes, this city in the Walachian region rich in folklore, boasts the headquarters of the liquor giant “R. Jelinek” established in 1894. The plant spurts out 100 proof plum brandy into the whole world. The liquor is known for being able to “knock out everything that’s bad in you.” That covers bacteria, bad thoughts, habits, flu and earaches.
One moment at the ranch really stands out in my memory. As we were cleaning the house, we found 20-year old canned pork steaks that the owners Bohacovi left. The pork had beautiful pink color. I remember my mouth watering.
On Sunday, I opened the jars, sniffed and tasted the meat. Perfect. I made the best breaded steaks in my life. We all ate them and waited into the night for a sickness that never came.
There were countless episodes of searching for grandpa who loved to wander off into the local watering holes. His best excuse was that he was going to get some beverages and groceries so we can make lunch and dinner.
That Saturday in the heat of the summer, there was not a drop of water to drink on the dried out premises.
“Where is grandpa,” asked Ludek working on the bathroom. “I don’t have anything to drink.”
I was hand washing the universal cotton cloth diapers and Emma’s baby clothes in a bucket in the front yard, while grandma Anna was resting on a wooden bench. Grandma suffered from Parkinson’s disease. She spent most of the day laying on the bench that grandpa made for her. Baby Emma was sleeping in her carry-on.
“That beastie, I bet he’s at the hotel,” said grandma with a sigh.
She was referring to the local hotel with a restaurant known as the “People’s House” with the following inscription, “Equality, freedom, fraternity.”
I always wondered why the hotel had in its coat of arms the slogan of the French revolution. No one could answer my question.
“Ludek can you please go to the hotel and get grandpa to come home?” grandma requested.
“Okay, I’ll be right back,” Ludek hurried away hiding his ulterior motives.
As my stomach growled, I had a strange feeling that afternoon.
Grandma dozed off and I headed to the kitchen to figure out what we’re going to eat. There was some salami and old “rohliky” or Czech croissants, already chewy like a gum.
“Okay, we’re just going to have to wing it this time,” I thought to myself as I made some chewy sandwiches.
Minutes changed into hours and the sun started its path down the horizon.
“Emma, you’re going to have to go and get them,” grandma said struggling with the sandwich. “I’ll watch Emma.”
It wasn’t the first time or the last time that I had to drag out of the hotel the twosome.
I found both of them in great joy downing their 10th beer “kriegel” along with shots of brandy.
“Grandma says you gotta come home,” I begged. “We’re hungry and thirsty.”
“Come and have one with us and then we’ll go home,” grandpa laughed.
“You promise?” I downed the “kriegel” filled with Brod beer from nearby Uhersky Brod.
That was the best case scenario when they would finally agree to go back to the ranch as the dusk set in.
And I write about all this and much more in the memoir. I want to finish the memoir this year.
Part II If I could turn back time……Living in Canada coming next week.