Meet Ryan Peel

Meet Ryan Peel.

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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.

Know. Participate. Share.

World wide demonstrations against Monsanto

A big chapter in my book “Greenwich Meridian” is dedicated to my journalism career after immigrating to the USA. Back in former Czechoslovakia I would have to have a political school to write, and a philosophy to adhere to. Here I don’t need either.

But, as a journalist I cannot bypass what most have due to advertising constrictions, or difference in opinions.

So, here is the story about the genetically modified giant Monsanto that has been transpiring since Feb. 28 thanks to a woman who got upset about the collapse of bee colonies.

It was the long Memorial Day weekend in the states when twenty-four packs are sold by millions. Who would have thought that something else than grilling and parades was happening?

To the oblivion of the television networks something was going on.

Demonstrations against genetically modified seed giant Monsanto held around the globe on May 25.
Demonstrations against genetically modified seed giant Monsanto held around the globe on May 25.

There were demonstrations against the genetically modified (GMO) seed giant Monsanto based in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA in 436 cities around the world last Saturday. Experts tie GMOs directly to cancer. Monsanto works with pharmaceutical companies to peddle drugs to cure  cancer. The company, lobbied by DuPont, uses scare tactics against small farmers, even sues them for descendant seeds. I’ve always thought that descendants were only people.

Their most known product is RoundUp that poisons groundwater. Due to RoundUp and other herbicides & pesticides entire colonies of pollinating bees have died.  Monsanto has been labeled as modern mafia. They have used test sites around the world including Argentina and Czech Republic, Brno for modifying seeds and products.Specifically in Czech Republic they modified sugar beets, which they use in food additives. US federal government has protected Monsanto against lawsuits by Monsanto Protection Act, they are supported by FDA, USDA, EPA.

Both FDA and Monsanto refuse to label products as GMOs stating that it would confuse the consumer. So, why are gluten-free products such a big deal?  The clout behind Monsanto is in the US Senate and the Supreme Court.

The company has released  a statement that it respects the right of people to demonstrate, however all their agricultural practices are in accordance with sustainable farming.

Local television stations Fox 17 and Wood TV 8 in response to my request why they didn’t cover the demonstrations said that I should go to their e-mail address and request further.

More coming in a sustained series.

Copyright (c) 2013 Emma Palova

My friends Dave & Jan Thompson

My friends who enrich me

Living in a different country than your homeland has its repercussions. That is what I write about in my memoir and  what I have told my daughter Emma Palova-Chavent when she was deciding about immigrating to the USA from France.

“You’re leaving old friends behind, and making new relationships,” I said. “That becomes binding.”

Immigration is not an experiment.

While living here for more than two decades, I have made a lot of friends that keep enriching my life. I know more people around here, than I knew in the village I grew up in back in Czechoslovakia.

Probably the biggest compliment I’ve ever received was from Lowell resident Barbara Schmaltz, who used to work for the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. I did a story on her for “Behind the Scenes.” The compliment is bigger than an award from the Associated Press.

“Emma, it’s been a privilege knowing you,” she said.

The same goes for my longtime friend, Dave Thompson.

As we approach Memorial Day, I write about Dave who has been the master of ceremonies for the event for the last six years. I met Dave while working for the Lowell Ledger in 2006. He came to my tiny cubicle office to tell me that he was organizing a clown parade to honor the 175th anniversary of Lowell.

“I am my own chairman,” he said.

Dave told me he wasn’t going to organize the parade unless he was solely in charge of it.

I’ve always liked that statement for its power.

“Once a teacher, always a teacher,” Dave said.

As a former teacher of chemistry and biology, and a coach, Dave always likes to put an educational component into the Memorial Day ceremonies.

One year Dave did a briefing on military uniforms to explain to the public the meaning behind the metals.

Post commander of the Lowell American Legion Dave Thompson with Boy Scouts on Memorial Day.
Post commander of the Lowell American Legion Dave Thompson with Boy Scouts on Memorial Day.

“Everything on the uniform has a meaning,” he said. “It is decorated based on the things you’ve accomplished.”

And truly while interviewing Dave in his den with the secret door and a miniature railroad track, I noticed what was on the walls and how it was placed. One wall was dedicated to civic honors, and the other to military. There was no more room left.

So, here is Dave’s story abbreviated version:

Dave Thompson was born in Grand Rapids during the depression on Nov. 23 1933. He grew up and attended public schools, and graduated from Central High School in 1952. He attended Olivet College and graduated in 1956. He was the winner of the coveted Olivet Oaks Cup Trophy as the Outstanding Graduating Senior.

After college, he flew in the navy, later he became a Naval Air Intelligence Officer, specializing in survival, escape and evasion tactics. He retired as commander with 21 years of service.

His work history includes teaching in the Detroit area for 10 years biology and chemistry, and coaching football and track.

Dave bargained three of the first five contracts in the Detroit area before the state bargaining law took effect in 1965.

“That made me a bargaining expert, something I still chuckle about,” he said.

Dave was the first executive director of Grand Rapids Teachers Association. He was also the general manager of the Grand Rapids Symphony for five years.

“What was your instrument, Mr. Thompson?” people quite often asked.

“The ukulele and the radio,” he said. “Neither one is a symphony instrument, but I put people in DeVos Hall.”

Dave with wife Jan moved to Lowell in 1996, and built a home on the Flat River complete with hidden moving panel doors and a white pine kitchen fireplace mantle. The mantle originates from the first Thompsons who arrived to Vergennes Township in 1833 as the first pioneer settlers.

Dave & Jan Thompson, avid volunteers, in their unique home.
Dave & Jan Thompson, avid volunteers, in their unique home.

He is proud of removing cars from Main Street during parades and organizing Dutch spaghetti dinners, as well as being Jan’s ticket out of Arizona. Currently, Dave is the post commander of Lowell American Legion, and on the board of Gilda’s Club.

Dave has three sons scattered around the country and five step children. Both Dave and Jan have lived by a motto:

“We all owe something to our community and we should be willing to give some time to those causes that affect others,” he said. “But when something ceases to be fun anymore, it’s time to move on to something else.”

Dave said the biggest claim to fame after all is said and done is being known as Jan Thompson’s husband. The couple received the title of 2010 Lowell Persons of the Year awarded by the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.

Copyright ©2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Screenwriting, me & Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Festival attracts thousands of industry professionals

Note:  As I write this, my daughter Emma Palova-Chavent is at the actual 66th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France that started on May 15th  and runs through May 26th.

 A big chapter in my memoir “Greenwich Meridian” is dedicated to my career as a journalist after coming to the USA. That was one of my many dreams to write for newspapers like Earnest Hemingway did, and then make a full-blown switch to literature and film.

So, here we go. Lights, camera, action.

 I covered the film festival twice in 2010 and 2011 for a conglomerate of newspapers J-Ad Graphics as part of my journalism and freelance career. I was among the 30,000 reporters from all over the world who had descended onto the beautiful city nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Maritime Alps.

This is what I wrote after coming back:

“Experiencing Cannes Film Festival, held annually in the French Riviera, is like flying to the International Space Station and making it back. Not everyone gets to do it, and not everyone wants to do it. It’s riveting, it’s moving, it’s inspiring, and it shows that anything is possible.”

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The cast of Pedro Almodovar’s film the “Skin I Live In” with Antonio Banderas in Cannes.

The biggest driving force to go to the festival was my own screenplay “Riddleyville Clowns,” which is registered with the Writers Guild of America, West.

While covering the making of Jerry Zandstra’s movie “Genesis Code,” which was partially filmed in Lowell and Grand Rapids, my interest shifted to screenwriting. I purchased “Final Draft” software, and I was on my way to the stars in Cannes.

At the time during the economic recession of late 2000s my husband Ludek was working in Wisconsin, and I was alone with my dog Haryk. I was writing for the Lowell Ledger and the Grand Rapids Magazine.

It was an ideal scenario for writing a script. I already had the setting, the main character, the plot and the driving force.  The screenplay was inspired by a real clown parade that was held to celebrate 175th anniversary of Lowell.

A  local resident Dave Thompson came to see me in my cubicle office. He told me he was organizing a clown parade. That was the spark that ignited the screenwriter in me.

“I am going to have a clown band from Scottville and clowns from all over,” Thompson said. “It’s been a heck of a deal to put this together.”

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Emma Palova behind a pirate prop at the Cannes Film Festival 2011.

It took me four months to write the screenplay. I wrote every day after writing at work.

When I finished  the last scene where the main character washes off the clown paints in the river that turn it red, I got up from the chair and my hair was standing straight up Mohawk style.

“I did it,” I said to myself.

I plan on going to the Cannes Film Festival again with my movies including the “Riddleyville Clowns” and “Greenwich Meridian where East meets West.” I am also writing  a screenplay based on the memoir.

With its dynamics and exotic locales, the immigration saga has a potential for series just like the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and the Godfather.

The fourth pirate movie premiered at Cannes in 2011. For the event, the city decks out with sponsor posters, banners, billboards. The actual screenings of films with the cast and the producers take place in the evening.

Those who receive tickets to the screening from the producers walk the red carpet to the Festival Palace, much like the celebrities. Thousands of people and paparazzi watch the evening processions to the screening. That in itself is a huge show. There is a mandatory dress code to the screenings.

The core of the festival is the competition of the selected films by the jury. The winners are awarded the Golden Palm during the final ceremonies on Sunday.

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Book dedication to my mother

Author dedicates book to mother

Mom Ella at Selby Garden in Sarasota, Florida.
Mom Ella at Selby Garden in Sarasota, Florida.

I embarked on this journey through my memories called “Greenwich Meridian where East meets West” on December 12, 2012 after being asked by many colleagues, friends and acquaintances to write  our story.
I have attempted several times to pen our immigration saga now spanning three generations. I saved evidence of such attempts like the personal essay, “Fire on Water.” I used the same title for my novel based on the communist experience from former Czechoslovakia. Some trace elements of the story can be found in a newspaper article about my naturalization as a U.S. citizen in 1999, “Lowell woman gets naturalized.” It was syndicated by the Associated Press and well received by the audience. I got phone calls from all over Michigan.
Finally, I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of writing for the pleasure of others. Until recently I have been writing mostly for information capturing tragedies, disasters, events, politics and corrupt police chiefs or superintendents. However, my forte are human interest stories often about ordinary people doing unusual things either by their own will or against it. The memoir is a true work of creative non-fiction in which I combine real life exotic settings like Africa with real life people, who are either put in a bizarre situation or get into one by their own doings.
Today, on this Mothers Day, I dedicate the book to my mother Ella Konecny who suffered the most in immigration because as Mr. Jan Skvor said at a Czechoslovak Conference for Arts and Science in Emigration in Horgen, Switzerland, 1970.
“Immigration is not for missies.”
For me immigration has been one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. And that includes studying calculus, seeing my grandparents through their illness to the end and living by myself with two young children, so I could leave the country to join my husband. And now by writing about it, I am reliving it. But, I want to preserve some of the events, and to a certain point even history.
I have no regrets. America has helped me realize my dream of writing. I would do it all over again. I have a Daruma doll used by Japanese businessmen for motivation and to stay on task. One of my former editors gave it to me when I was facing a tough project. When things are not going your way, you just knock it down. A little steel ball at the bottom makes it bounce back.  You also color only one eye, and once the project is complete you color the other eye. So, Daruma has been watching me pounding away on my keyboard at early morning hours chapter after chapter.

“Life went by so fast,” said mom when we talked about immigration in Venice, Florida and at the Selby Gardens.

I completed a 50-page book proposal for Greenwich Meridian to an agent yesterday May 9th , on my birthday. This article contains some excerpts from the overview of the project.
Copyright © 2013 story  and photo by Emma Palova

Love in May

May immortalized by Czech poet and writers

May in Czech is known as the month of love immortalized by poet Karel Hynek Macha and other writers. In May lovers can be found in parks after the long winter. Also May dances are held in many villages. They’re known as Majales and tall Maypoles are erected and decorated with ribbons. These traditions are now coming back after they were suppressed under communism. Also May prayers called Majove are held outdoors when it is nice by simple chapels.

A castle park in Vizovice where a big part of my book takes place.
A castle park in Vizovice where a big part of my book takes place.

Typical flowers for May are lilacs. Some have grown into trees and have been cross bred into different colors. So you can find a blossoming lilac tree in lavender, burgundy and white. The style of many parks was based on English gardens with strict design and hedges such as the one in the picture Vizovice. A lot of my book takes place in this small town of not even 5,000 people in the Moravian region. I went to first grade there, and spend many years growing up in Vizovice, and then taking care of my grandparents.

There are a lot of legends tied to the park and the castle. In the upper part right by the castle, there are two huge statues of ancient fighters with swords. The legend has it that each year, they grow closer together. Then when they finally meet, that will be the end of the world.

Czechs like tales, legends and stories. I don’t know who came up with the one about the statues.

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