Category Archives: Greenwich Meridian memoir

NANOWRIMO DAY 15

Christmas through Lowell Nov. 15- Nov. 17, 2019

Lowell Area Historical Museum

325 W. Main St., Lowell

I am getting ready for a three-day author’s gig at the Lowell Museum during the Christmas through Lowell tour. Stop by for an autographed copy of my new book “Secrets” from the Shifting Sands Short Stories series. Today is the longest day from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.

NaNoWriMo 2019

Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West

I got an early morning start today with my husband Ludek announcing that we finally got a thaw from the “Novruary” weather that was more like in January.

I worked on the chapter “Mom’s battle for emigration” that will need a title change.

Excerpt

I wandered through the streets of Zlin afterwards not going back to school. I needed to internalize cousin Peter’s funeral. I went past the shops on the main boulevard of Zlin now named Thomas Bata Boulevard after the big shoe businessman. I stopped at some of the store windows without knowing what was on display. Like a robot, I walked to the next one, I stopped and looked, but I didn’t see. Sometimes, I looked at my feet as they walked forward. And then I looked up at the grey sky laying heavily above my head. 

I stopped at a news stand to look at the books that had just come out. I saw a paperback book “Diary of an American Wife.” I wondered what it’s like to be an American wife. I thought I would never find out. 

I was hoping that I wouldn’t run into any friends. I must have been carrying a bag with my text books because I started to feel the weight in my right hand. I went past “Zlinanka,” a fancy decadent café that served sundaes and desserts. I’ve been there a thousand times, but this time it didn’t feel right.

Next in row was the main pharmacy and then came the real hard decision-maker. That was the deli “Rybena.” The deli for me was like Mc Donald’s is here in the USA.

Even though, I must say “Rybena” was more than a socialist staple. It stood out from the other ubiquitous delis around the country. The deli made its own greasy white chips, a bag for two crowns called “lupinky” which means flakes. I doubt they were made from potatoes. I usually bought a bag, and I ate it all at once. Then I would get sick. “Rybena” was also the only place in town that sold raw fish, mostly trout. The raw trout were laying right next to the open-faced sandwiches known as “canopies” because they looked like tents or canopies. 

Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

NANOWRIMO 2019 dAY 14

Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West with excerpt

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI- Big day today. I unlocked the NaNoWriMo 14- day writing badge logging in 2,992 words with a re-worked chapter from the “Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West memoir.”

https://www.nanowrimo.org

The memoir about our family immigration saga took us back from the U.S. to hardline communist Czechoslovakia torn by the disappointment from Prague Spring and mom’s separation from dad.

Excerpt: “Our commerce with Tuzex bons”

Mom could exchange dollars for the fake Czech currency called Tuzex “bons.” The Tuzex bons were just papers issued by the International Bank of Commerce in Prague, not backed by any federal reserve or treasury unlike the real currency- Czech crown. Bons were only valid at the state -run Tuzex stores, which did not accept crowns.

The magical “bons” went far. They were used in luxury Tuzex stores sprinkled sporadically around the country like sprinkles on Christmas cookies. 

 Both mom and I sold bons to our friends for Czech crowns. A Tuzex bon sold for 5 crowns. It wasn’t exactly legal, but it wasn’t illegal either. 

I loved going to the Tuzex store located on the sixth floor of the Zlin department store Prior near the Moscow Hotel and the Cinema. 

For nostalgia purposes, I even kept some of the clothes bought in Tuzex and later took them with me to USA. I still have the silver-colored sweater with a huge leaf applique and a jean jacket by the United Colors of Beneton bought in Prague.

Some people like my friend Hannah were friends with me only because I had the bons. Anyone who worked outside the Eastern communist block and got paid in foreign currency could only exchange it for these colorful papers, sort of like vouchers. 

Just like money, bons carried power with them. 

“You got some bons to sell today?” asked Hannah. 

Off course, I always had some bons to sell. I am a dealer by nature. I inherited that from my entrepreneurial grandpa Joseph. So, I traded and sold bons in school and outside of the Zlin Gymnasium.

To be continued….

Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

NANOWRIMO DAY 13

Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West with excerpt

On this Day 13 of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 50k word challenge, I navigated through the two parts of the Greenwich Meridian memoir about our family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia to the U.S.

Even though, I logged in only 1,044 words with chapter “Dad defects the second time,” I moved the project ahead by joining the most recent notes from mom and dad with the first storytelling part by storyteller Emma. Now, this was crucial, since until recently, I did not know what to do with the different points of view on the same immigration story.

Take a look at what the storyteller has to say about dad’s second escape in chapter “Dad defects the 2nd time.”

Excerpt: Dad defects the 2nd time

Well-respected professor of math, Vaclav Konecny

Years went by before I found out what had really happened. My parents plotted the second escape together. Mom even risked that she wouldn’t be able to leave the country to join dad. 

“I knew about your dad’s plan,” she told me during an interview in Venice, Florida in March of 2013. 

“You never said a thing back then,” I said. 

“I couldn’t say anything that would jeopardize the entire plan,” mom said. 

I thought that was really brave on both of their parts. Anything could have gone wrong. First of all, the country was under the hard- line communism rule of the 70s and 80s. The borders with Austria and Germany were guarded heavily. Then the situation was exacerbated by my parents’ first escape to Canada in April of 1970. 

They had a record from the trial, and from the files of the Secret Police StB after returning to Czechoslovakia for the 1973 amnesty. I could have been thrown out of school, and they could have lost the apartment on the “Southern Slopes.” And my dad would end up in jail serving his sentence and more time for his second escape. 

Dad left the second time on his 42nd birthday on August 23, 1976 from Zlin to Slovakia, Hungary and Rumania. He crossed the border between Rumania and Yugoslavia at Puerta Fiera, and from Yugoslavia to Austria where he switched plates for a German license plate. 

“I just unscrewed it from another car at the border, when no one was looking,” he said. 

He also had a black dingy just in case he needed to cross the Danube River into Austria. My parents painted it turquoise like the water. Dad trained how long he can stay under water at Lake Macha in Bohemia, Czech Republic. Dad has always been an excellent swimmer. 

“I sold the boat for a can of Hungarian goulash,” he laughed in Venice, FL. 

He waited in Germany at an auto camp for half a year before he got his green card. A friend from California helped out with the embassy dealings. Dad called Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas from Germany, and was offered a job with a smaller salary than before. 

“I had to start all over again, right from the beginning,” he said. “I stayed at the Pettis Motel and in one half of a mobile home.” 

The punishment for the second escape, because dad was considered a repeat offender, was 3.5 years in a third- degree correctional facility in Czech Republic. 

Even today when I close my eyes, I have trouble imagining my gentle dad, a well-respected math professor, with gray blue eyes escaping across the borders at several check points with a painted dingy, unscrewing license plates and living in an auto camp, or at worse sitting in a correctional facility in a striped jumpsuit like any other jailbird. 

My dad is a very balanced individual, infinitely patient, kind and he does not like taking risks, even though he is an adventurer. 

But dad is also very motivated, accomplished and thorough. I can imagine all the nights, my parents sat with maps under a lamp, designing the second plan of escape; this time together. 

One can never know a relative well enough, even if the relative is as close as a parent. What I find in the second escape inspiring, is the fact that dad followed through on the plan. He had two plans of escape as he described in his own words in the chapter titled: “How professor of math escaped Czechoslovakia.” 

Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

NANOWRIMO DAY 12

For NaNo Day 11 go to post “In observance of Veterans Day, NaNo Day 11. https://emmapalova.com/2019/11/11/in-observance-of-veterans-day-2019/

Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West with excerpt

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – We’re moving into winter “blietzkrieg” style- hard and fast. We already have snow frozen to the ground in Michigan as we hit 17F this morning.

I approached this year’s NaNoWriMo 2019 50K word challenge in the same style- hard and fast. I researched the background for the Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West memoir over the past few years, Moreover, I lived the historical events that shaped the story from Prague Spring in 1968 to Velvet Revolution in 1989 up to the present moment.

I logged into the NaNoWriMo dashboard a total of 27,403 words, averaging daily more than 2,000 words.

The previous years of research and writing have been like putting together the pieces of a puzzle with an unknown picture at the end.

Dad Vaclav Konecny with mom Ella at their 60th wedding anniversary celebration in Big Rapids.

Greenwich Meridian is an epic tale of our family immigration saga from Czechoslovakia to the U.S. spanning more than 50 years. It is also a love story between the main characters mom Ella & dad Vaclav. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Aug. 8, 2019 at Naval’s Mediterranean Grille in Big Rapids, MI.

After hitting a dead end around chapter 12, I took a break from the memoir and worked on the Shifting Sands Short Stories anthologies that resulted in book 1 “Shifting Sands: Short Stories” and book 2 “Shifting Sands: Secrets.”

I completed “Shifting Sands: Secrets” in the summer of 2018. So, I returned to the Greenwich Meridian memoir starting fresh with its second half that includes memories penned by my parents in chapters “In her own words” by mom Ella and dad wrote “How math professor escaped Czechoslovakia.”

Here is an excerpt: How math professor escaped Czechoslovakia

By Vaclav Konecny

I suffered through all the injustices of the totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia. I did not want to live there anymore. I applied for emigration visa for the entire family to get out of the country; all in vain. At the beginning of 1976, two officers from the Department of Interior visited me only to announce that I would never get the visa, even though I wasn’t working. 

Nothing helped my case; neither letters written to president Gustav Husak, who was proclaiming at the time, that people like me could pack their suitcases and leave the country, nor the Helsinki Accords of 1975. In vain, I wrote letters to different institutions, but I always got the same answer: “It isn’t in the best interest of the republic.” However, the only interest of the republic, was for the communists to fill their own pockets. I haven’t met a lot of honest communists there.  

The Helsinki Accords of 1975 signed by 35 countries including the U.S. and all the European countries attempted to improve the relations between the communists and the West. However, the Helsinski Accords were not binding as they did not have a treaty status. 

The communists abided only by those paragraphs and laws that they wanted to. I was a factory worker operating NC machines at the Precision Engineering Plants in Malenovice. That was the result of an intensive job search and after the recommendation from President Husak. This shows that the officials had no idea about my profession. They were probably judging by their own experience of gaining titles in exchange for lies and deceiving their own bosses. I didn’t complain; I worked honestly at the factory and I carefully probed all illegal avenues of leaving Czechoslovakia. However, I realized that it would be too risky to leave with the entire family. So, I decided that I would leave the country illegally by myself and get the family out of there later. 

Different options of escape seemed risky, because the borders were guarded against the people of the country, so they wouldn’t escape, not some outside enemy. Soldiers and their dogs were dangerous; the life of a Czech or Slovak person meant less than the life of a rabbit. I assumed that the border patrol in other countries would be less dangerous.  

Stop by for an authographed book from the “Shifting Sands Short Stories” anthologies during Emma’s book signing at the Lowell Area Historical Museum on Nov. 15, 16 & 17.

2019-11-15T09:00:00

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Emma’s book signing at Lowell Museum

Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

In observance of Veterans Day 2019, nano day 11

Thank a veteran today for service to our country.

NaNoWriMo continues with Day 11 with excerpt from Greenwich Meridian

By Emma Palova

As I look outside my writing studio window on this Veteran’s Day, I see a white blanket of snow covering my beautiful garden.

NaNoWriMo 2019

According to the Czech calendar, it’s also St. Martin’s Day or the Feast of St. Martin. Tradition has it that if it snows on Nov. 11, then St. Martin has arrived on a white horse and there will be snow on Christmas Day. However, if it doesn’t snow on this day, then St. Martin came on a dark horse and Christmas will not be white, but muddy.

So, it’s looking like we’re going to have a white Christmas in Michigan.

I’ve been working since 9 a.m. on my NaNoWriMo project- the completion of the Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West memoir about our family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia to the USA, spanning two generations.

I logged in 1,707 words for a total of 25,404 words. I spent a good deal of time on revisions. Revisions are more time encompassing than creating brand new content.

I wrapped up my NaNo writing about 30 minutes ago with chapter “Sad homecoming.” Just like the title hints, it was a sad homecoming in June of 1973 when we returned from USA to former Czechoslovakia.

Here is an excerpt:

When we got off  Boeing 747 in London to change flights to Prague, I cried and cried. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, as I realized that we were back in Europe. But the main shock was yet to come at the Prague Ruzyne Airport. We arrived sometime in June of 1973, so it was hot. At the airport customs, we were immediately rushed to the side into a peculiar enclosure, a cell-like structure.  Other people were waiting in the small room as well. 

“But my parents are waiting for us,” mom argued in vain with the custom officials who took away the passports and other documents. At the time, my parents had three passports, and a female custom official took them away from mom. 

“You’re going to Trebotov,” the official said with a rigid face. 

“Why? What is in Trebotov?” she asked. “I don’t know anything about it. And my parents are waiting for me,” mom said as she struggled to free herself from the official who grabbed her by the arm. 

“Let me go,” she said. “I need to talk to them.” 

“No, you’re going to the quarantine,” the female official said firmly. 

I looked at mom. She was scared, and confused not knowing what was going on. There were more immigrants from different parts of the world waiting to be transported to the so called “quarantine” in Trebotov. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other. 

“What quarantine? We’re not sick,” mom raised her voice. “We just returned from the USA for the presidential amnesty.” 

The female official was uncompromising, and she was like most officials very unpleasant. She was dressed in a uniform with a rigid face. After endless checking of documents and luggage, we were escorted to a black 603 Tatra government car. The driver took us on what seemed to be an endless tour through the countryside of the Central Bohemia region west of Prague. Mom cried the entire way, while we had no idea where we were going. The car was moving fast on narrow country roads, and it all just turned into a blur. We finally stopped in front of an old austere building with a gate and a fence. 

To be continued…

Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

NANOWRIMO DAYS 9 &10

Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West

With a relative warm up of 40 F this morning, I got up early in the dark so I could plug away at the Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West memoir about our family immigration saga before church.

This is my 10th writing day in a row in the NaNoWriMo 50K word challenge.

I am using my mom’s timeline from 1959 to present to navigate through the important milestones in the epic tale covering three continents and two generations.

Mom's diary
Mom’s diary

These include: years in Khartoum, Sudan from Nov. 1964 to March 1970, in Saskatoon, CA from April 1970 to Oct. 1970 and in Hawkins, TX from Nov. 1970 to June 1973.

In the book, this timeline transfers into three draft chapters titled: Years in Africa, On the run and Into North America.

I am still working on Save the Cat Beat Sheet (NaNo-style) for the first half of the memoir.

On NaNoWriMo Day 9, Saturday Nov. 9, I pulled together Save the Cat Beat Sheet (NaNo-style) for the second half of the memoir.

Excerpt from chapter “Years in Africa.”

The politics in former Czechoslovakia loosened up and dad pursued a job opportunity in Khartoum, Sudan because he feared the religious prohibition in the socialist country guided by the Marxist philosophy.

In 1961, Sudan gained independence from the British and was opening up to the world. Vice-chancellor Daffala of th University of Khartoum was recruiting experts from Europe to teach at the university. 

“He invited me for an interview, and I was hired,” dad said. 

Dad was hired in 1964 to teach applied mathematics which equals theoretical physics at the university. The university was affiliated with the University of London. 

“The university was the Harvard of Africa, “dad said. “It was the best university on the continent.” 

Dad was allowed to leave Czechoslovakia through the Department of Education, while other experts obtained governmental clearance through the Polytechnic Institute, known as Polytechna. 

Mom, my brother Vaclav and I joined dad in 1965 for what my parents called, “the best time in their lives.” It was a joyful ride that lasted a few years. Among the things that shocked me first, was the fact that we had to be vaccinated against malaria. All I knew were shots against kids’ diseases, and malaria wasn’t one of them in Czechoslovakia. 

A total of 30 families made up the Czech expert community in Khartoum, located amidst the sands of the Sahara Desert. We lived in an apartment complex, Pink Palace that had a palace-like building in the center for the management. 

“There were no food lines like in Czechoslovakia,” said dad. “We had everything: meat, oranges, bananas, olives.” 

The Czech community in Khartoum was like the exotic textiles sold at the souqs or at the exquisite shops on high streets in downtown. It was tightly woven together by the forthcoming freedom of the Prague Spring reformist movement.  

“Unlike back home we felt at ease with other people,” mom said. 

The Czech and Slovak community consisted of ambassadors, members of the Department of Commerce, and the teachers from the Department of Education; a diverse and adventurous bunch.  

“We all lived at the same location, so we got together quite often,” said mom. 

The embassy was a cultural center; it was a formal social outlet nestled in a society that also struggled to find its own identity. On the other hand, the Pink Palace apartment complex served as an informal platform for Czechs and Slovaks to reminisce about home, as well as to weave dreams about the future in a free country. 

“I gained experience, new outlook and knowledge, and I met different people,” dad said. 

To be continued………

Copyright (c) 2019 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

NANAOWRIMO DAY 8

The structure of Greenwich Meridian- Save the Cat! Beat Sheet (NaNo- Style)

By Emma Palova

I woke up in the dark to a freezing morning. The temperature was 23 degrees Fahrenheit, we’re 30 degrees below average November temperatures in Michigan; perfect weather for writing.

I logged in a total of 16,336 words on my NaNo 2019 dashboard that tracks daily writing progress in the National Novel Writing Month 50K challenge. My daily count was only sligthly above 1,000 words, but I organized the structure of the memoir according to Save the Cat! beat sheet for graphic novels.

Structure of Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West NaNo- Style

I introduced my dad math professor Vaclav Konecny as a young man on the brink of his first adventure, unhappy with the status quo in the communist Czechoslovakia in mid 1960s.

Here is an excerpt:

Young math professor Vaclav Konecny feared the communist regime that prohibited the society to practice religion and the teachers were the main target of this religious prohibition in Czechoslovakia under the Marxist philosophy.

Ironically, he studied at an austere seminary in Kromeriz where he acquired his iron-clad discipline that lasts to this day.

He grabbed the opportunity to teach Applied Mathematics in Khartoum, Sudan as a way out of the restrictions that he called the “cage” in 1964.

To be continued

Copyright (c) 2019 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

nanowrimo Day 7

Mom’s timeline in Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West saga

By Emma Palova

Looking outside the window in my writing studio, I see that the day has melted the morning surreal scenery of white cover with green grass stems sticking through it. The morning frost took down more leaves from my wisteria hanging tight onto the octagon pergola. One frozen morning glory flower managed to freeze in its red beauty in my window boxes. The sun peaked out and chased away some clouds and the darkness of an early morning.

This is the seventh day of the National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo 50K challenge. I unlocked a 7-day in a row writing badge and updated my word count at 15,308 words a few minutes ago closing the writing session with mom’s comprehensive timeline from 1959 to present. Overall the timeline helps me navigate through my parents’ and my own travels between three continents: Europe, Africa and North America.

The other movement in this epic story of love and passion is between historical events that changed the map of Europe; from the reformist Prague Spring in 1968, when the Soviet tanks invaded former Czechoslovakia to Velvet Revolution in 1989 and far beyond into North America.

Some of the highlights of mom’s timeline include: fascinating visits to Egypt and the Middle East, life in Khartoum, Sudan and back to Czechoslovakia.

Mom's diary
Mom’s diary

Excerpt: In her own words

By mom Ella

At the beginning of November, my husband announced his decision that he will be leaving for Sudan on Nov. 20, 1964. I gave him my blessings and never thought for a moment that I would go with him. I continued to work in the pharmacy in Vizovice and my boss who loved to travel kept asking me when was I going to fly to Africa.

In the spring of 1965, when I finally applied for a passport and got my vaccinations, Vaclav wrote me a letter that he was coming home, because it was the end of the school year. The university paid once a year for round trip air tickets for the entire family, regardless that he had just started teaching in November. The school year in Sudan ran from the beginning of July to the end of March; it was followed by a summer break lasting three months.

Those three months were also the worse months in Africa weather-wise filled with sand storms “Habub,” rain and heat. Khartoum lies on the 15th parallel close to the equator; it is the second warmest place in the world. It’s a dry tropical country with very little rain. A road stretched 50 miles north of Khartoum and 50 miles south and dead ended in the Nuba desert.

To be continued………..

I am working on a 4,000 word description to log the upcoming book on Amazon’s kdp publishing platform.

Here is a link:

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/

Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

nanowrimo Day 6

Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West

Excerpt: How professor of math escaped Czechoslovakia

By Emma Palova

It’s snowing and it is freezing cold outside, as I am done with my morning writing session on day 6 of the National Novel Writing Month 50K word challenge. My shrubs in the garden are covered with snowflakes.

For my #NaNoWriMo 2019 project, I am working on the completion of the Greenwich Meridian: Where East meets West memoir about our family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia to the U.S.

Professor Vaclav Konecny at Ferris State University.

This epic tale covers a span of more than 50 years and historic events from Prague Spring in 1968 to Velvet Revolution in 1989 and beyond that propelled the story into an adventure between three continents: Europe, Africa and North America.

Thanks to the prep work that I did in October, the research in previous years, and my parents’ accounts of their experiences, I am moving swiftly between the historic events that have formed our lives.

Here is an excerpt from chapter: “How professor of math escaped Czechoslovakia.”

Different options of escape seemed risky, because the borders were guarded against the people of the country, so they wouldn’t escape, not against some outside enemy. Soldiers and their dogs were dangerous; the life of a Czech or Slovak person meant less than the life of a rabbit. I assumed that the border patrol in other countries would be less dangerous.  

So, I decided to escape either from Rumania or Bulgaria. I diligently analyzed reports from other tourists to these countries. It was interesting that the officials were issuing quickly passports to socialist countries. I applied and to my surprise I was issued a passport in Brno on July 7, 1976. My situation became easier even though the passport was without an exit clause to any capitalist country. So I was free to travel in Eastern Europe.  I used my three-week vacation to get ready for the escape. 

Excerpt from escape to be continued

Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Nanowrimo Day 5

Mom’s sacrifice

By Emma Palova

It’s a chilly November day as I look outside from my writing studio window at my garden with the ornamental grass bed. The grass is still green and the remaining leaves are rusty red and yellow. Only the Royal Purple Smoke tree with a dedication plaque to Ella has bright burgundy leaves clinging onto the branches.

I don’t walk to the pond anymore in the back of the garden, because my beautiful koi fish are gone. An heron devoured them in September. I didn’t want to put new fish in the pond before the winter.

Mom's diary
Mom’s diary

I logged in 10,019 words earlier in the National Novel Writing Month 50K word challenge with the Greenwich Meridian memoir about our family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia to the U.S. It was an interesting writing day as I could compare mom’s and dad’s statements about their biggest accomplishments in the USA.

My dad published more than 150 solved problems in different math journals and in the Canadian Crux Mathematicorum. But, he states that he is most proud of his lecturing style that was well understood among the students and that he was well liked.

I was surprised reading mom’s answer that for her America was a sacrifice to her husband’s teaching career. I found it on the last page of the pretty diary with yellow roses.

“I fullfilled my husband’s dream of teaching at an American university without being afraid of losing his job because of religion and going to church,” she wrote. “He was well-liked and with his diligence, at one point, he was making more money than his American colleagues. I ensured freedom for my children and my grandchildren, who have great careers and appreciate it. They thanked me for that.”

Copyright (c) 2019. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.