Dijon, FR. Oct. 3
This is the sixth installment in my adventure travel series from France, Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland. I started my trip on Sept. 3 out of Lansing, Michigan to explore new and old cultures in support of writing and publication of my memoir “Greenwich Meridian.”
I ventured into the past into Czech homeland to recapture the events that have had impact on our family immigration saga now spanning three generations.
Vizovice, Czech Republic, Sept. 22
When I found myself in front of gated entrance no. 111 Krnovska in Vizovice on a chilly Tuesday morning, my heart skipped a beat. I could hardly recognize the white washed elegant country house on top of a hill with beautiful gabled roof, new windows and flower boxes.
The only remnants of the dilapidated summer dwelling that belonged to my grandparents Anna and Joseph Drabek was the rusty well pump at the bottom of the hill. I could still identify where grandpa put the illegal drainage under the plum trees. The plum trees were long gone but I could still hear him swearing at the sewing machines that he couldn’t repair, and in a distance I heard the lonely tunes of a coronet trumpet.
I sold the house to a local resident with a good reputation, which always counted back in the homeland. I had to sell all my belongings so I could leave former Czechoslovakia forever in1989 to join my husband and parents in USA.
I spent a big part of my life in this house that my grandpa nicknamed as “ranch,” a name that stuck forever. Every weekend, we arrived on a bus with our infant daughter Emma in a carry-on bag to get a reprieve from the captive living in the apartment mega complex Southern Slopes.
It was a true ranch, where work and pleasure played equal role. I remember washing cloth diapers outside in the courtyard, a fancy name for a concrete slab with a drain, overgrown by grass.
This is also where I had my very first garden tucked in between the neighbor’s crumbling wall, the plum trees and the grassy two-track driveway.
“Emma, our cabbage looks like it’s been through war,” my grandpa yelled as he examined the perforated purple and yellow heads. “We’ll make sauerkraut and chalamada anyways.”
It was here at the ranch, that I learned how to cook thanks to grandma Anna. Ailing grandma was in charge of all the meal preparations as she directed the show from her Lazarus’ bed, which was the wooden bench on the porch.
A trip to town only a few minutes away was part of the daily routine. Actually, it was more like several trips to pick up different things that arrived at different times of the day, or at different days of the week.
When I think about it today, I would have probably designed an application to make this paramount vital task easier. You had to go early in the morning to buy fresh bakery products like “rohliky” or Czech croissants, but not bread. Fresh bread was only ready after 2 p.m. at the local grocery. Meat and produce where only available on Tuesdays and Thursdays after 2 p.m. Lager beer from Prerov came in on Wednesdays.
In Vizovice, I learned how and when to buy the right meat, which still remains a true art in Czech homeland. Literally, you never knew what you were going to get. Rule no. one was to come early and stand patiently in the line. That too later paid off in my journalistic career.
“Did you know that Mary has been cheating on him?” whispered one broad to another standing in the line in front of me. Both had standard apron dresses on, that are still sold at the textile shops.
“No,” the other broad, wearing a dark blue apron dress, pretended she knew nothing. That way she could find out more.
If you were up front in the line, you could get a good cut. Once I proudly brought in a big piece of meat.
“That pig gave you some carcass instead of chuck,” grandma turned her head upset at the butcher.
As I stood humbled on the Main Square in Vizovice by the Marian column, I could no longer find the old buffet shop that sold the best desserts in town, the coveted Prerov Lager, sweet and sour herrings and Walachian salad.
The People’s House pub and lodge has been converted into the Vizovice City Hall. It still bears the inscription “ Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood.” All the little specialty shops including dairy with great ice cream Eskimo, bakery and the dreaded meat market have been integrated into a super grocery. The funeral parlor, where I had to check for grandma on most recent deaths, was gone too.
But several venues from the past did stay intact; some repaired, some left in their desolate state. I walked into the old gift shop, “U Kaluzu” where I used to buy gifts for my mother’s birthday. It still smelled of nostalgia. It now sells stationery, and the gifts it sold, were on display in the window as antiques.
“Prejete si prosim?” the woman behind the counter asked me, “How can I help you?”
But, there were also great new finds for me in town like “Tony’s” or U Tonka patisserie and Inn right on Main Square.
I stopped there to have a cappuccino and a true Czech dessert, a great cake roll, now called “Crème breeze.” It all cost 54 Czech crowns, since the Czechs still have not converted to Euro currency. In the eyes of a resident of the European Union, it would have been a cheap buy.
I paused in front of the old elementary school where I started first grade before leaving with my parents for Africa. It is now an arts school.
The town is well known for its Chateau (Zamek) Vizovice that hosts concert series, and serves as a venue for weddings. The chateau is surrounded by a beautiful park and fables about fraudulent owners like the fake Count Casperi.
I left the town with a warm feeling in my heart that everything continues to flow and change for the better, while the past has been preserved.
To be continued……University city Brno,Czech Republic where it all started
Emma Palova © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova