A love to travel II: Secret rendezvous in Hungary

Family meets in Hungary

As I mentioned in part one of the travel stories, Czechs love to travel in the era after communism. So, do my parents who started the entire family immigration saga in 1968.

However, after my father Vaclav Konecny’s second escape from the communist homeland in 1976, I wasn’t allowed to travel to the countries in the West. Dad could not get visa to visit Czechoslovakia in spite of his very sick mother.

So, we set up a secret rendezvous in the border town of Gyor in Hungary not far from Slovakia exactly 10 years after he defected. Both dad and I could travel to other eastern countries, but the officials feared that he would spread dissident ideas and western propaganda inside his own country.

We headed out to Gyor across southern Moravia and Slovakia in the late fall of 1986. There were five of us travelling in a small Skoda car. I remember my late uncle Franta asking my grandma to buy him some hot Hungarian paprika, so it fires up his  brain power.

Gyor border town with Slovakia.
Gyor border town with Slovakia.

We packed some kolache for the road. Gyor was much like many medieval towns in Czechoslovakia. It had the same colorful facades and squares with statues of saints.

When I got out of the car, I was surprised how much dad had aged in those 10 years. He always had a receding hairline, a great smile and gentle grayish blue eyes, that looked sad this time.

Dad spent last few days with his mother in the hotel.

“This is the last time I see her,” he said.

We had farewell dinner at a restaurant with a band that played cszardas, a classical Hungarian spirited dance. We ordered goulash, a traditional Hungarian dish of stewed beef in lots of onion and paprika.

Going to the restroom was a definite challenge. I stood helplessly in front of two doors with two long words, no pictures. And nobody was coming out. I plunged ahead, only to find myself in men’s bathroom.

The language in Hungary, which has a lot in common with Finnish remains a mystery to me, even though I consider myself a good linguist. I remember writing a letter to my mother behind the hotel room desk. I was pregnant with our son Jake, and I could barely wait to be reunited with my parents in USA.

Dad said goodbye to the rest of the family and we boarded a train to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. I love Budapest. The architecture is very similar to Vienna and Prague, since all three capitals were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until the end of World War I in 1918.

Budapest is the capital of Hungary.
Budapest is the capital of Hungary.

In Budapest, we ate the awesome world-famous Hungarian salamis and czabajkas. We visited the posh shopping street where I bought a white leather suit. The suit later travelled with me to the USA.

We walked to the monument on Heroe’s Square in the November chill. We had a lot to talk about. In those 10 years that I haven’t seen my father, many relatives had died. My dad couldn’t come to my wedding, graduation or to the christening of my daughter. He was hard through and through.

“You know Emma, you have to follow your dreams and be prepared for them,” he said. “But there will be hard times no matter how prepared you are.”

The famous dish Hungarian goulash.
The famous dish Hungarian goulash.

We continued our talk next day over a delicious Hungarian coffee and dessert at a restaurant pitched high atop the left bank overlooking the magnificent Danube River.

During the time dad was gone from home, his older brother Tony and his father had died. He could not come to any of the funerals. That’s the price of expatriation.

In a recent interview in Venice, Florida dad had no regrets over leaving his native land, but did admit to being sometimes homesick.

“All I have left now are memories,” he said.

Copyright (c) story by Emma Palova, photos Internet

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Local authors

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This is my new cover photo for my author’s page on facebook. It was taken at one of my favorite hangouts Ella’s Coffee & Cuisine in downtown Lowell at 307 E. Main. As an author, I deeply believe in artistic synergy. The owners have been supporters of local artists and authors from the very beginning.

Ella’s to me is reminiscent of Paris hangouts of authors like Hemingway and his circles. I feed my artistic energy from other artists’ work as well.

I invite all to like my on my author’s page. It is here where I post snippets of my upcoming work and happenings.

Welcome to all.

Emma

Celebrate Independence on July 4th

Celebrate Independence on July 4th

America celebrates its biggest holiday, Independence Day on July 4th with fireworks, parades, concerts, grilling and chilling.

Pictured is the Lowell Showboat decked out in patriotic colors. The Showboat annually serves as a venue for the Sizzlin’ Summer Concert Series. I always run around with the camera, but I manage to enjoy the concerts from the deck of the boat. Summers in my hometown Lowell are busy with events ranging from Riverwalk Festival which runs this year from July 11 through July 13.

Lowell celebrates summer with the Sizzlin' concert series on the Riverwalk stage.
Lowell celebrates summer with the Sizzlin’ concert series on the Riverwalk stage.

A definite highlight of Lowell summers is relaxing music on the bank of the Flat River. Bring a chair or a  blanket.

The annual Sizzlin’ Summer concert series is held on the Riverwalk stage every Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. This year it runs from June 13 to Aug. 22. You can celebrate July 4th with the 126 Army Band under the direction of  Chief Warrant Officer Jon Montgomery this Thursday.

During the Riverwalk, the Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys will be playing on the stage.

For full schedule of events go to Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce at http://www.discoverlowell.org

Copyright (c) story and photos by Emma Palova

Parish Festivals

Parish festivals bring families together

Much like in the USA, many festivals in Czech Republic are tied to churches and their patron saints. We’ve just experienced a great St. Patrick’s parish festival here in Parnell last weekend. For the first time we could all enjoy it together as a family. It was a family reunion at its best.

My daughter Emma Palova-Chavent arrived from France on Tuesday prior to the festival with her daughter Ella. And my parents Ella and Vaclav came from Big Rapids. To my big surprise even my brother Vas peddled on his bike 75 miles from Paris, Michigan to Lowell for the festival. My son Jake came for the chicken dinner from Kalamazoo.

Polka dance at St. Pat's Parish Festival last Sunday.
Polka dance at St. Pat’s Parish Festival last Sunday.

I was also mildly surprised by the $3 admission charge to play in the Las Vegas tent. My daughter and I always lose a lot more than just $3. We all went Sunday to the festival to enjoy the chicken dinner and mainly the polka music by the Diddle Styx Polka Band.

It felt almost like back home in Czech Republic during the Saint Mary’s Pilgrimage days in September that will now be held on the brand new Marian Square in front of the medieval church. Both Czechs and Germans love to listen, sing or whirl a polka.

We always came to visit with my in-laws for the Marian festival in Stipa, along with other family members.  I write about this in my memoir “Greenwich Meridian,” because the church has quite often inspired me for its opulent baroque interior with a beautiful organ. My uncle Tony used to play the organ. I was married in that church, and funeral masses for most family members were held there.

The Pala and Konecny families enjoy chicken dinner at the parish festival.
The Pala and Konecny families enjoy chicken dinner at the parish festival.

Most women in the village including my mother-in-law Julie baked and cooked up a storm for the Marian festival, as the families got together from far and near. We usually had schnitzels, which are breaded pork chops, and mashed potatoes with home canned compote. For dessert, we had the traditional “kolache” pastries filled with plum butter and cottage cheese.

There was a dance on the night before the festival Sunday, much like here in Parnell. I can think of only a minor difference between the two events. Carnival rides always accompanied the Marian feast, while classic car and antique car show embellish St. Pat’s festival. We didn’t have raffles or auctions, but we had colorful paper roses on wires from the carnival caravans as souvenirs from the Marian festival.

Saint Mary's church in Stipa, Czech Republic during Marian pilgrimage days.
Saint Mary’s church in Stipa, Czech Republic during Marian pilgrimage days.

The Marian event in Stipa is officially called a pilgrimage, because originally people made pilgrimages to a small chapel with one of the oldest statues of Virgin Mary in Moravia that stood in place of the church. We made a pilgrimage once from our Zlin apartment to the Marian church in 1978 when I was pregnant with my daughter. We walked approximately seven kilometers across the Southern Slopes and along the narrow roadway to Stipa.

Pilgrimages are still common in Europe to places like Fatima in Portugal and Lourdes in France, as well as Hostyn in Czech Republic.

Copyright @2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

A love to travel

Czechs love to travel

Burgas boasts beaches like Sunny Coast on the Black Sea.
Burgas boasts beaches like Sunny Coast on the Black Sea.

As I write in my memoir “Greenwich Meridian,” Czechs have an obsession with travel; partially due to the fact that during communism, travel was only allowed to the countries in the Eastern Block. And just like with anything else, what is prohibited attracts the most.

The only semi-capitalist country that the government allowed people to go to was Yugoslavia, and even that one required exit visa. For a Czech person, Yugoslavia was expensive. So, they canned their food and bought potatoes to bring with them. Usually, they slept in tents there.

But, it was a yuppie thing to do. Because of my immigration past to the USA, I was not allowed to go to any Western country, and not even to the coveted Yugoslavia. I just heard about it from a friend at school who went there the year Elvis died.

On the other hand, I’ve been to two Eastern European countries, and that was Bulgaria in the summer of 1982, and Hungary in 1987.

My husband Ludek and I took a train from Prague to Burgas on the Sunny Coast of the Black Sea. We travelled the distance of 811 miles for two days and one night.

The train became very local in Rumania. It stopped in every village, where people were either begging for food or selling some. You could see gypsies on their wagons, and we did travel through the Transylvanian Alps, home of the famous count Dracula. The train had trouble climbing up the hills and the curves. You could see both locomotives chugging the long train from the back cars.

Bulgarian ceramic pitcher.
Bulgarian ceramic pitcher.

Somewhere along the way in Rumania we stopped for a break. We walked into a store to buy some food for the road, and it was completely empty. I wondered why it was opened.

Sunny Burgas welcomed us with a surprise. The vacation was advertised with a stay in a hotel in a Czech travel catalogue. The reality was a trailer camp. I remember crying.

Bulgaria also had so called Russian toilets which were just holes in the ground with two sidesteps to put your feet on. Much like in the rest of Europe, all the restaurants were directly on the beach.

My favorite food was chorba, a hearty stew with home made bread. I’ve been making it ever since. I bought some Bulgarian ceramic souvenirs that I brought with me to the USA.

People were friendly and we spoke Russian, which we all had to learn in schools of the Eastern Block. It came in handy. After many years, when I returned back to the USA with my family, and met a Russian man in a store, I could not remember anything except for “Zdravstvuj tovariscz” which means hello comrade.

…….. to be continued

Copyright © 2013 story by Emma Palova

Czechs&beer II

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Beer brewing has a long tradition in Czech Republic. Most breweries started hundreds of years ago.

-continued from May 31

Note: In my memoir “Greenwich Meridian” I write about my unique experience from a hops brigade in former Czechoslovakia.

After a long train ride, followed by a long bus ride we finally got to the hops farm in the middle of nowhere and near Czech army bases in Western Bohemia. We were lodged in barracks. There were 16 of us sleeping on bunk beds in one room without closets.

We had all our belongings under the bunk beds. So, three weeks of hell began. The second day, the water stopped running, and nobody knew how to fix it. The third day the room started to smell from the stinky shoes and clothes soaked with sweat from the hops fields.

We were divided into two shifts; I worked the second, while my friend Eva worked the first. She worked in the fields tearing down the long prickly hop canes. I worked in the barn hanging them up, so the green small cones could be mechanically harvested.

Sometimes when the shifts changed we met in the fields with Eva to talk and read Agricultural News. Once a week, a pub on wheels came to the farm. The drinking age in Czech Republic and Europe is 18. We always missed it because we had to work. We were directly in the area where best beer is made, and we couldn’t even sample it.

The closest general store was five miles away, and it was badly stocked.
The food on the farm consisted of mainly meatless dishes such as sweet dumplings with marmalade or golden “buchticky” small donut-like pastries covered with unidentifiable yellow sauce “shodo.” One day we came to the cafeteria, and there was a sign that the chef was dismissed because he was mixing salad with his hands.

On the few occasions when we did have meat on Sundays, we had to get up at four o’clock in the morning and peel massive amounts of potatoes for a mashed side dish. Since, then I hate peeling potatoes. There were approximately 400 students on the farm.

On one precious day off, we hitched a ride to the spa town of Karlovy Vary also known as Carlsbad in Western Bohemia. Finally, we could enjoy a beer, a dessert at the famed Elephant patisserie, and shop for a souvenir.

The next day, it was back to slavery again at the hops farm. To somehow pacify us, the management, whoever that was, organized morning dances for those who worked the second shift. The work week was seven days a week 10 hours a day.

I lost 20 kilograms because I refused to eat the meatless dishes. My friend Eva ate them out of desperation, and gained 20 kilograms. The life at the barracks with minimal space consisted of discussions on the bunk beds since there were no chairs or tables.

“What are you doing?” somebody asked a girl who flipped her position so her feet were in the headboard on the bunk bead.
“I am tricking the flies so they don’t buzz around my head,” she said. “I’d rather have them around my feet.”
I remember the long line to get paid 400 crowns for more than three weeks of labor. We missed the hops train back home, because we were not quite done yet with all the fields, and helping out others.

We dragged on a charter bus back to the region of Moravia, and I could not believe this happened.
Those who didn’t go to the mandatory hops brigade ended up going to cotton or chicken farms.
Czechs call hops, that are exported to Japan, their green gold. Well they are pieces of gold bought by the exploitation and sweat of others.

Copyright © 2013 story and photo by Emma Palova

Czechs & beer

The photo was taken at Larkin's Restaurant in Lowell, MI.
The photo was taken at Larkin’s Restaurant in Lowell, MI.

Of Czech hops and brigades

“Life is too short to drink bad beer.”
unknown woman from Ada

Czechs have a long-standing love affair with beer that dates back to the 900th century when the first hops were planted in Western Bohemia in the area of Zatec.
Since then, the Czechs have been vying for the first place in beer consumption per capita which keeps alternating between the Germans and the Hollanders. All three are the best producers of beer in this world.
The quality of beer much like anything else depends on the quality of the ingredients that go into it. The old saying goes that it is all about the pairing of three: in case of beer the ingredients are water, hops and barley.
My first encounter with hops was in 1982 just before I started studies at the Technical University in Brno in former Czechoslovakia. On a beautiful summer afternoon at the end of August, I received a letter just like the army reserves receive a letter about deployment.
“You have to be at the Brno train station on September 5th,” it read.
The letter also stated that if I fail to show up for the mandatory hops brigade, I will not receive a required credit for graduation. Later, I found out that the government used the military as well to pick hops for minimum wages.
I had a three-year-old daughter Emma, and a huge ambition. I wanted to graduate.
So, I boarded a bus on a Sunday afternoon to Brno, crying and waving goodbye to my husband Ludek and to our daughter.
At that time I weighed around 140 pounds.
On the train to Zatec, I met my lifelong friend Eva.
“Are you thirsty?” she asked.
“Yes, I didn’t know we were in for a long haul,” I said.
She offered me orange juice, and we spent the next 15 hours on a train that had the last priority on the track.

To be continued.

Copyright © 2013 story and photo by Emma Palova

Monsanto loses Europe

The power of organized masses

I have many times in my life experienced the power of organized masses in demonstrations and revolutions like the Velvet Revolution in 1989 that brought two million people to the Wenceslas Square in Prague. That was the end of communism.

Now, I am witnessing the power of people again in the long drawn out fight against genetically modified (GMO) seed giant Monsanto based in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA. Based on protests, trials, court cases and demonstrations, the company lost all of Europe, except for Czech Republic, Spain and Portugal. Most recent demonstrations took place on May 25th in 436 cities around the world, 250 in the US. Meanwhile we were being fed information on major networks about a fire on a cruise ship with a firefighter on it.

This is an excerpt from an article by colleague Nils Mulvad from Investigative Reporting Denmark titled “GMO lose Europe-victory for environmental organizations.”

Monsanto will halt production of genetically modified corn in all of Europe, except Spain, Portugal and Czech republic. The agribusiness multinational states not to spend any more money on trials, development, marketing, court cases or anything else to get GM corn accepted in Europe.

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