Dijon, FR- Sept. 29
This is the fifth installment in my travel adventure series that covers three European countries including France, Spain and Czech Republic. I followed the footsteps of my past into Czech homeland as I visited places, friends and relatives that have had impact on our family immigration. I am currently working on my memoir “Greenwich Meridian” about the three-generation saga.
Zlin, Moravia- Sept.16th through Sept.24th
The names of many places, buildings and universities have changed since the fall of communism in 1989. So, as a rule, we had to meet with old friends and relatives best at train stations, because tracks haven’t moved or at bus stations.
In some cases, we even had to set up clues, marks and signs to recognize each other. Some of us had dyed, cut our hair or just plain have grown old and gray.
I easily recognized my friend Liba Hlavenka from Canada whom I haven’t seen in more than two decades in spite of the fact that we live in two neighboring countries.
“You live next to each other,” relatives asked, “That’s crazy you’re going to meet her here.”
Well, the distance between Montreal, where Liba lives, and Grand Rapids, where I live, is around 1,000 miles. It was a pure coincidence that we both happened to be in Zlin, Czech Republic, at the same time and in the same year. I wasn’t that lucky with my other classmates who too have immigrated; one also to Canada, the other to Sweden.
The other factor that plays a big role in brief rendezvous in the old country is that we all usually come back only for social occasions. That is most often for funerals, graduations, and rarely for weddings or school reunions. There just never seems to be enough time, money or energy.
I missed all the reunions from the elementary school in Stipa, from the secondary school in Zlin, and finally from the university in Brno. It wasn’t by my own choice. Thanks to modern technology, we could use Skype to communicate during our last elementary school reunion in 2011. However, it is not quite the same thing, as seeing your classmates in their true flesh and blood.
I always say that’s the price we pay for leaving the country where we were born, raised and went to school. We have left behind our living and dead relatives, a different culture and a way of life. Our family ancestors are buried at the local cemeteries, and usually we only get to see the inscription on their headstones.
I tried to recapture all that I have missed over the decades in a flurry of six days visiting the communities of my past: Zlin, Stipa, Vizovice, Kromeriz and Brno.
I met up with my longtime university friend Eva Petrikova-Laurencikova in the beautiful city of Kromeriz on a rainy Saturday. All of my friendships have survived the revolution, the European Union, changes both in politics and economics, changes in careers and partners, as well as the distance across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Do you remember how we used to eat beer cheese in a cup with onions?” Eva asked.
I could not remember the beer cheese, but I did remember the smoked pork knee we used to order in cheap student joints that smelled of beer in Brno.
Here we were, 27 years after graduation; Eva with her two grown children, Emma and John, and me feasting on a smoked pork knee at Velky Orel (Big Eagle) restaurant located on the main Big Square in Kromeriz. Each friend that I managed to see again, wanted to showcase something from the towns where we used to hang out.
“They brew their own beer here,” Eva said.
A lot of the pubs in Czech Republic have jumped on the bandwagon of the microbrewery trend crafting their own spectrum of beers.
We walked the cobblestone streets and squares in Kromeriz that has been designated as the UNESCO World Heritage Center protected for its historical value. Eva showed me the catholic school, where she teaches math. Interestingly enough, each one of us ended up doing something totally different than what we studied, that is construction engineering.
“Since I’ve overseen the construction of our summer house in Velke Losiny, I might go back into engineering,” Eva laughed. “You have to come and write from there. Losiny is a beautiful town with thermal springs close by.”
We also toured the main grounds of the Archbishop Palace where some scenes from the film “Amadeus” and “Immortal Beloved” were shot. The Archbishop’s Palace boasts a unique arts collection including the prized painting by Venetian master Tiziano Vecelli. I remember when we wanted to go and audition for extras in the movie with my grandpa Joseph for 100 Czech crowns a day. Today, I wish we had. As always, I only regret the things I haven’t done.
As a special treat, we walked on top of the Flower Garden colonnade taking in the perfect symmetry of the gardens and the labyrinths below us.
It is said that if a person speaks at one end of the colonnade, the words echo clearly through to the other side.
I picked up a few long coveted deli items at the local Carrefour before we said goodbye, strangely enough at the parking lot by the cemetery since there is no parking along Lesenska Road in Stipa.
We sent butterfly kisses to each other; hardened by our past, discontent in the present, oblivious to the future.
For more information on Kromeriz go to www.mesto-kromeriz.cz. The info center is located at 50/45 Big Square in town. For more information on Czech Republic go to www. czechtourism.com
To be continued…….Abound in Czech Republic II
Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova