In my memoir “Greenwich Meridian,” I write about Czech and Slovak traditions that I have witnessed while living in Czechoslovakia with a touch of nostalgia. Some of them disappeared along with the old regimes, but most have survived mainly in villages and small towns preserved by enthusiastic small groups of people. The traditions are reflected in festive costumes for the holidays and special events, in music, dance, food, and customs specific to each village and town.
We lived in Zlin, Moravia, which is the central part of former Czechoslovakia embedded in traditions. Both as a child and an adult, I lived and visited with my grandparents in Vizovice, a treasure trove of traditions.
Easter celebrations in Czech and some other European countries are longer by one day, and that is Monday.
We have always indulged in lavish preparations for the long Easter weekend. That meant having enough meat, desserts, eggs, and beverages for three days. There were long lines just like before any major holiday. I spent a lot of time standing in lines and listening to what the old broads had to say.
“I am not going to tell him how much I spent,” a woman wearing a scarf and a fluffy skirt shook her head defiantly.
The other one with an apron over her dress smelled of burnt dough.
I thought, she must have burnt her kolache, a traditional festive pastry with plum butter.
The broad leaned closer to the first one and whispered something into her ear. Then they both laughed, until their bellies and chests were heaving up and down. I learned a lot standing in lines. The longer the line, the more I learned.
So, the culmination of it all is Easter Monday known for its “schmigrust,” an old whipping custom.
On that day, early in the morning ,large groups of boys and young men head out into the streets with their braided knot-grass whips or oversized wooden spoons decorated with ribbons. The day before, they spent many hours skillfully braiding their whips out of willow twigs or scouring the house for the biggest wooden spoon.
The boys go door to door, reciting traditional Easter carols like “Hody, hody doprovody,” asking the lady of the house for painted eggs. Then, they whip all the present females in exchange for decorated eggs and ribbons. Single women, and girls tied ribbons on top of the whip. I always wondered about the whipping custom, long before I ever set my foot out into the world. One day, grandma Anna finally explained it to me.
“It is supposed to resemble the whipping of Christ before he died,” she said.
“But, grandma that’s evil,” I cried.
Grandma just shrugged, and turned away. Later in life, I knew better than to question a tradition.
The elders in the group were offered shots of plum brandy, usually home made or acquired through bartering. Even family members took part in this ritual. Uncles and cousins were invited inside for coffee, festive desserts such as kolache, shots and meaningful conversation.
On a good year, and especially when I was a teenager, we got anywhere around 100 passionate revelers. Sometimes, I ran out of ribbons. The boys and young men, competing against each other, took pride in the number of ribbons they got. The craft stores had to stock up with meters and meters of ribbons, plain or embroidered. The hens, of course, felt obligated to produce more eggs.
As I walked on the gravel road to the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist for the first time this year, I thought about Easter and spring both as a time for new life along with death.
This first walk is very significant and important to my writing career. It sorts things out kind of like spring cleaning. The trees are bare, and I can see deep into the woods where the ground is still covered with last autumn leaves.
The trees along the two-mile route look like dark caricatures; creepy sketches whining as the wind tries to break the wood. The road is hard, and I can feel every pebble under the soles of my shoes.
By the Homestead Orchard I found an old patch of snow. Usually by this time, I see daffodils peak out. The apple trees in the orchard seem old, bent and all crooked.
The camera is dangling by my side.
As I take a deep breath of fresh air, the wind howls above my head, But other than the wind, it’s totally quiet. I did not encounter a car, a person or an animal.
I tally last winter’s happenings. We had two new births in the family, Josephine and baby boy Sam born in France.
I haven’t seen yet Sam, that’s the price of immigration and international marriages.
For the first time in years, I am walking alone. My dog Haryk can’t walk well anymore. He sleeps most of the day.
My parents Ella & Vaclav Konecny are still in Florida awaiting the funeral of their good Czech friend Anthony Herman. That brings me full circle to our immigration saga captured in Greenwich Meridian where East meets west.
The two families knew each other before immigrating in 1968 from mom’s hometown Vizovice in former Czechoslovakia. They immigrated separately with their young children.
When I arrived in 1989 in NYC to permanently live in the USA, we stayed at the Herman’s home. The Konecnys and the Hemans remained in telephone contact over the years.
Aging brought them closer together since the families followed the pattern of winterizing in Florida. They found themselves living within half-an-hour of each other. They visited with each other on Sundays for many years, according to an old Czech custom.
And as my favorite author Gabriel Garcia Marque writes in his “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” that you’re never home in a foreign place until someone dies there.
With the wedding preparations of our son Jake Pala and Maranda Ruegsegger, and now with the death of our family friend, I realized that we have finally arrived.
Czech calendar dedicates each day to a different name
By Emma Palova
As I write this, I am thinking of my own name and my daughter’s. That is in Czech language Ema, and in English Emma. The Czech calendar devotes each day to a different name. The name day is called “svatek” or jmeniny which celebrates the name of the person. According to the Czech calendar Emma’s day falls on April 8.
The name days originate in the Roman Catholic list of saints, which has been changed many times since. My mother gave me the name based on a romance novel where a gentleman writes letters to a young lady, always starting with the greeting, “Mila Emmo.” That translates as, “Dear Emma.” Mom loved that greeting almost as much as she didn’t like her own name, Eliska. So later, when she got naturalized as an American citizen, she changed her name to Ella. The different ending of the name Emmo is a trick of the Slavic language, where all nouns are declined in seven declinations depending on the proposition.
I, on the other hand, liked my name because of the stories that circulated about an old lady named Emma, who never got married. That was the gossip in the old Moravian town of Vizovice. I thought that story was way too cool to let go of it. So, at a time when the name Emma really wasn’t in fashion, because it was so old, I put it down as a chosen name before I gave birth to a girl. Surprisingly, she was born on her own name day, Ema on April 8. The result was a double celebration. The birthdays are still bigger than the name days, but the most popular names like Joseph are celebrated by the entire nation on March 19 much like St. Pat’s here.
I have always wondered about the last day of the year being dedicated to Silvestr. And I am pretty sure nobody knew about Sylvester Stallone in those days. I gave a very modern name to my son Jake. In the late 1980s, baby boys were named either Jake or Luke. The Czech calendar captures more than 365 names throughout the year giving the calendars and cards a great variety. There are so many names that some days have to double up reflecting both a female and a male version.
A lot of the Czech calendar name days are dedicated to royalty. My dad and my brother are named after the great Czech king, Wenceslas, which is Vaclav in Czech. But, we don’t celebrate our name days here in the USA, because we have adopted a family policy that we will only stick with birthdays. We also do not celebrate Czech national political holidays, as that would be difficult to keep a track of. More over, a lot of the national holidays changed after the fall of communism in 1989. November 17 has been designated as a holiday to commemorate the start of Velvet Revolution, and the fight for freedom and democracy.
We added a new big name day to our family name portfolio, and that is Josephine that falls on March 19.
Happy name day to all Emmas
Copyright (c) 2014 story and photos by Emma Palova
Common Gentry Carriage Co. celebrates 25 years in business
Of style and substance
By EMMA PALOVA
Connie May Elsasser is the stylish woman behind The Common Gentry Carriage Co. of Sparta. Sitting at the dining table Elsasser showed her trophies and print publications including
a 1997 Parragone Corvette parts catalogue.
“They wanted to show the contrast in the beauty of both the Corvette car and the horse Tess,” she said. “Tess was the cover girl.
Today, Elsasser has an impressive fleet of five gentle Percherons and a slick town coach, a sleigh, a two-wheel cart, two romantic vis-à-vis carriages and two wagons.
She started the business by leasing one black standard bred horse Magic and buying a harness and a carriage in April of 1989 after working in a floral shop.
Elsasser stationed herself in front of the Amway Grand Plaza to give rides in downtown Grand Rapids. In May she called schools for proms and churches for weddings. Then she added festivals and fairs for a full time business.
“Within three years I needed more carriages,” she said.
She uses Amish built carriages in Indiana and buys Percherons from Amish breeders at auctions.
“They have that Cinderella look,” she said. “I sold the black horse and upgraded to vis-a-vis or face to face carriage.”
According to Elsasser, winter marriages are not that unusual, but proposals are more common in winters during holiday time for most families.
“It was like in a fairy tale,” said Jake Pala of Kalamazoo.
Pala recently went for a sleigh ride on the farm to get pictures for his wedding invitations and announcements with Maranda Ruegsegger.
The vis-à-vis wedding carriage is as romantic as it gets. The ride comes complete with a footman and a coachman dressed to the occasion in the turn-of-the-century swallow tail coats, champagne served in crystal goblets, a garland of flowers decorates the carriage along with a “just married” signage. The couple can also play their favorite song.
Elsasser offers carriage rides in downtown Grand Rapids area also in the classy 1880s Town Coach from England. The windows and doors have fancy curtains. The convertible coach seats four, and its kerosene lamps have been converted to electric.
Most of Elsasser’s business comes from weddings, but overall it can be a toss-up.
“It’s toss up between weddings and festivals,” she said.
The town rides can bring up to 69 jobs between the 14 weekends from May through July.
Misty eyed, Elsasser said after all these years she still gets emotional when she sees the groom and the bride leave the church as man and wife from her driver’s seat on the carriage.
“You don’t get rich in this business, because it’s seasonal, but you make a lot of people happy.”
She recalled one very creative proposal on Rosa Parks Circle where the gentleman rented skates and serenated the woman playing a guitar.
“Will you marry me,” he sang.
Her future plans include hosting wedding receptions and offering horse-drawn photo shoots on the expansive farm just outside of Sparta.
“I want to do more with schools and work with children who have special needs,” she said. “I also want to focus on family gatherings.”
Her vision is that children will benefit from the contact with the horses and share a common message of love, joy and laughter.
“I want to be a part of that,” she said.
To celebrate her 25th anniversary in business, Elsasser will offer a 20 percent discount, if customers mention this article as seen on EW Emma’s Writings on http://emmapalova.com
The historic carriage rides in downtown Grand Rapids run from April through November for half an hour for $60, and in the summertime for $40.
Elsasser also offers an exclusive hour tour through the downtown and Heritage Homes area.
“I talk about the history of the city en route,” Elsasser.
The tour comes with appetizers on the carriage, complete narration based on research. She highlights churches such as the oldest one St. Mark Church which is a mix of French and English gothic style with limestone exterior, and old furniture exhibit buildings.
Some of the ornate buildings on Monroe and Lyons streets and on Campau Square were built in the 1800s, and reflect rich furniture tradition of Grand Rapids.
“I studied history like crazy,” she said.
Her most popular events include the Venetian Festival in Charlevoix, Ionia Free Fair, Muskegon, Hastings and Marshall.
Out of all these activities, Elsasser still loves the weddings and the proposals the most for the romance, and for the moment of the day.
“I am the first person they get to see as a couple as Mr. & Mr,” she said. “Everybody gets so excited. For that day they are the royalty, they’re the queen and the king.”
Her partner Scott Banga helps maintain the fleet on the farm.
“Scott is a phenomenal horseman,” she said.
Banga worked with the famous Budweiser horses.
The Common Gentry Carriage Co. will be again at the Lowell Christmas activities.
“The horses are so elegant,” she said. “They’re substance with style.”
Percheron horse Pete weighs around 2,500 pounds and his mate is Tess. The horses have a champion bloodline. The dappled horses are born black, then they dapple out and turn white. They are members of the Percheron Associations of Michigan and USA.
You can come by appointment to the farm or to schedule an event call Connie Elsasser at 1-616-204-3190 or go to website: http://www.commongentry.com or on facebook page thecommongentrycarriagecompany.
Couples take to the ice to celebrate spring in Pure Michigan
A couple this last Wednesday took to the ice to drill a hole and do some ice fishing for bluegills on Murray Lake in Grattan and Vergennes townships. They joined other brave souls on ice in 20-degree temperatures on March 26. I call this a true passion as the nearby fowl bathing in poodles on the lake watched them. Other than ice shanties, a dude was there on a snowmobile.
Most people stop and load up on goodies at the Parnell Grocery on Five Mile Road.
This has been the roughest winter since 1950s. Why not make the best of it?
Within a week I have been able to capture sunsets both in Michigan and Florida. Enjoy.
Any new person who follows me on my 150th post will get a $25 certificate for Steak & Shake.
LOWELL, MI- Always held on the fourth weekend in March, the annual Lowell Expo sponsored by the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce has become a community perennial over the years.
It is also the only community event when chamber director Liz Baker wishes for bad weather.
“We want people to come inside and visit,” said Baker.
This year’s 18th Expo was well attended with more than 150 vendor booths. The event was complete with local entertainment by the Lowell Area Schools groups and by bluegrass band of the WMBA Eazy Idle led by Dave Simmonds.
These included newcomers: the Red Barn Market from Vergennes Township with owner Barbara Roth and River Edge Bed & Breakfast and Gathering Place with owners Brenda and Bill Schreur, as well as the Candlestone Resort of Belding.
Follow EW journal for stories on the above mentioned businesses.
There were signature mainstays of the event like the Lowell City Directory represented by Cathy Acker at the entrance, the Lowell Area Farmer’s Market with Dave & Betty Deans and Lowell Arts with director Lorain Smalligan. The farmer’s market this year opens on June 12th in front of the Tractor Supply Co.
Ada Lowell 5 were also represented by Amy Petersen.
The city of Lowell had on display Riverwalk Stage and Showboat Plans as part of the future masterplan.
The Expo serves as a great platform for new organizations such as the Rebuild Whites Covered Bridge group led by Christine Baird and Keith Salter.
The group hopes to raise $300,000 for a new replica of the Whites Bridge that burnt on July 6th of last year. They are selling memory bricks for Memory Lane, and beautification project at the bridge. Join their facebook group: Supporters for Whites Bridge. Whites Bridge Benefit will be held on June 7 at the Qua-Ke-Zik Sportsman’s Club on Riverside Drive.
The Lowell Area Schools Food service offered a complete menu along with vendors’ samplings by Litehouse, Frozen Creek Floral & Farm.
Hubbert’s Kettle Corn had fresh kettle corn samples in front of the Lowell High School.
For upcoming fundraisers for the Whites Bridge replica check the local & events page on EW Emma’s Writings journal.
Venice, FL– As of yesterday I started feeling like a true Floridian with salt, sand & sun in my hair and skin. I celebrated two major name days St. Pat’s & St. Jo’s in Venice. I experienced the sunset and the full moon at the same time on the beach, beautiful weather and a tropical storm. I spotted young dolphins jumping high in the air as I was swimming along their side in the Gulf, and a stingray flopping by my feet. I went shelling and found precious concha shells and amazing beach formations.
I found my favorite spot on the beach by the two tall pines. I have my Venetian favorites: seafood dish Gulf Mix at Sharky’s, seaside drink and dessert, blue Bait Bucket Margarita and Key Lime Pie, my favorite yoga instructor Elin, downtown coffee shop Coffee & Wine, downtown shops boutique Seaside Chic and Fifi’s, bookstore Goodwill on Tamiami Trail, print publications magazine Venice Gulf Coast Living and newspaper Venice Gondolier. I have one last thing left to do. That is finding a shark’s tooth today. Today is my last full day in paradise.
If it was your last day in paradise what would you do?
Copyright (c) 2014 story and photos by Emma Palova
Participate in the survey on Your last day in paradise. What would you do?
Dali entrances in St. Petersburg’s enigmatic museum
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
St. Petersburg, March 12- On a misty Wednesday morning, we headed out from our base camp in Venice southwest Florida north on I-275 to St. Petersburg on Tampa Bay. Mom Ella feared crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge perched into the sky high above the bay.
The winds were only 25 mph, nothing to fear. The bridge closes to traffic when winds are over 45 mph.
St. Petersburg greeted us with a mix of sunshine and tropical rain like spring in the North. We parked on Beach Drive near the other big arts venue, the Museum of Fine Arts, ( MFA) in this fashionable city.
Since, it was lunch time, we walked the Beach Drive in search of the perfect joint.
We found one at Parkshore Grill. But, along the way, I peeked into some fashionable boutiques like Bella Moda.
The Parkshore reminded me of the decadent cafes in Prague and Brno, always full with old ladies drinking coffee. We sat next to a round table taken by a group of dames wearing print blouses.
Overall, the place buzzed with conversation and carefree laughter.
Our waiter Dakota fit the bill. He was entertaining and multilingual. We ordered small plates for $16 which consisted of Caesar salad, jumbo sautéed shrimp with angel hair pasta and a mini dessert.
In the tropics, no lunch is complete without a cocktail. The Pisco Margarita with reposado tequila and aloe nectar was smooth like the day. I watched the tropical rain whip the sidewalk with café umbrellas.
Après lunch, we cruised down First Avenue to Dali Boulevard.
This was my second visit to the Dali Museum located on the marina on the bay at One Dali Blvd. The three-story futuristic building, constructed in 2011, is just as striking as the artist. It was built in the shape of a rectangle with a glass bubble erupting out the backside facing the bay. The bubble made of triangular pieces of glass is known as the “enigma.”
A spiral staircase reminiscent of the DNA molecule and Dali’s obsession with spirals leads to the galleries on the third floor.
This time I took the audio tour rather than the docent-led tour to take in the impossible; that is Dali in all his greatness.
The second largest collection of Dali’s work after his homeland gallery in Figueres, Spain was made possible by his close Cleveland friends, Reynolds & Eleanor Morse.
America brought fame to Dali in 1936, when the Time magazine featured Dali on the cover. Dali and his wife Gala lived in the USA from 1940 to 1948 to escape German occupation.
It is divided into his early work, anti-artist period, surrealism and nuclear mysticism.
The audio describes in-depth featured paintings mostly turning points in Dali’s career.
I was absolutely blown away by Dali’s double image paintings such as the “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire” and “The Three Ages”, oil on canvas 1940.
His epic “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln” is a prime example of double imagery. The title describes precisely the 121-pixel painting that at second look from a distance becomes a large head of Abraham Lincoln filling the entire canvas.
The Gala/Lincoln painting reminds me of the 3D pictures popular in the mid-90s. At first you only see the blocks, but staring deep into them will uncover a unique 3D scene. I loved these, I wish I had kept some of them.
My other fascination with Dali is his depiction of progression of time as in “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory.” This painting has the famous melting watch. He was inspired by an oozing cheese melting on a hot day in his studio.
I often ponder the twisted clocks as I am sure Dali wanted us to do just that; ponder and contemplate over his paintings and images.
Like Einstein & Dali, I have my own fascination with time; not as it’s measured with devices, but its progression and evolution in space.
My major work, literary novel manuscript “Fire on Water” has been labeled by agents and critics as having no sequence in time or a juggled sense of time. The story moves between various episodes loosely connected, like Dali’s “Still Life-Fast Moving.” In the novel, just like in the painting, everything all of a sudden is thrown into action, only to be brought back to stillness.
I don’t know if that categorizes me as a surrealist writer that has skewed perception of time. As a writer, my goal is to connect the past, present and the future into one fluid movement. Along the way, the writing path winds, twists and bends as life itself.
In my stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, I attempt to fuse time in its different phases into one powerful elastic body of work.