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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Grandpa Joseph Drabek of Vizovice was the first entrepreneur in the family. He worked for a shoe factory Svedrup as a master sewing machine repairman. He even had his own apprentice. But, on the side he did so called “fusky” or moonlighting for cash. He continued with moonlighting even more so after retiring from Svedrup. Now, that was strictly prohibited under communism, since all private businesses in former Czechoslovakia were nationalized in February of 1948. Penalties for violating the nationalization law included jail time. And grandpa did some.
There were no legal private butcher shops, no funeral parlors, no general stores, no bakeries, no jewelers, and no farmers, just cooperatives. The agricultural land was taken away from farmers, including my second uncles, and put into cooperatives.
So, at a time when any private enterprise was considered an illicit business, grandpa’s biz was flourishing due to the lack of skilled people in his trade.
He proudly gave his corporate headquarters a grandiose name, “shoppa.” The shop was a shack put together from scavenger boards and planks, window panes and stolen material from the shoe factory. It was well hidden behind the old house under a walnut tree. Grandpa painted the shop with old oil from his cars, and he got offended when someone called it a shed.
Grandpa Joseph spent a lot of time on the road. And that’s when my dad, a professor of math and physics, became a part of the business. Dad couldn’t get a teaching job after returning home from the USA, so grandpa as a true entrepreneur exploited that without hesitation.
Dad chauffeured grandpa around the Moravian region for gas money, instead of teaching calculus and trigonometry. He patiently waited in the car calculating math problems in his head, while jovial grandpa chatted with seamstresses who had broken sewing machines.
Grandpa could be easily recognized from far by his signature beret, blue work shirt with oil streaks, his two leather bags filled with tools, and a little canted walk. He quite often swore at the machines, when he couldn’t fix them.
“Where were you,” mom asked once after the duo had been gone for the entire day.
Well that was part of the problem. We never knew when they were coming home. At a time when even land phone lines were a luxury, it was impossible to track them down.
And it wasn’t unusual for them to end up in strange places, since dad didn’t know the hilly region well.
Grandpa took the business another step further when he put an ad in the local paper advertising his craft. That too was a big no, no. He laughed for the longest time at the single response he got, “Dear Mr. Advertiser.”
No matter what grandpa did, he was a true pioneer ahead of his time.
Grandpa did get to visit with my parents Ella and Vaclav in Big Rapids, Michigan in the late 1980s, soon before he died of cancer. His shoppa survived both him and all the political and development upheaval.
I salute both men, who ever so bravely, journeyed through the countryside to earn an honest crown, that is a good Czech currency.
Most people spend more time planning their summer vacation than their lives, GRCC psychology instructor Tom Deschaine.
It took me a long time to figure out what I want in life, because I am good at everything. And that’s not an exaggeration. Just ask my husband.
As funny as it is, it can become a disadvantage that sends you on different tangents wandering around like a hobo. Some call it ADD, lack of focus, lack of determination, whatever.
The writer in me
Deep down inside me I knew I always wanted to write. But that’s like saying I want to eat. What do you want to eat? Hamburger or a steak? Well, it was probably steak.
So, I started writing for Czech papers as a correspondent out of Montreal, while I was teaching ESL. On the side, I wrote fiction, short stories, now in a living collection “Glass Flowers.”
I still enjoyed doing all three things that is writing fiction and non-fiction, as well as teaching. Call it a trichotomy.
When I officially entered the journalism arena in the US, I loved it immediately from the get go. I learned photography upgrading my skills. My forte or strong side are human interest stories about people doing interesting things.
News story vs. human interest
The difference between a news story and a human interest story is in its sudden impact, and lasting. I prefer the lasting stories, just as much as I prefer perennials to annuals.
I don’t remember most of the news stories that I have done, (they were all the same crashed cars, bloody bodies, shot people) but I remember outstanding features syndicated by the AP such as the one about a Belding apple farmer losing his orchard due to economy, an Orleans man weaving stockings through the Great Depression, or a boy who delivered his sister.
And that takes me directly to what I am doing now. I am working on our family immigration saga Greenwich Meridian spanning three generations. It is a true work of creative non-fiction, in which I combine creativity with facts from life. Much like in the human interest features, I elevate the stuff I like about the characters, or the details and downplay what I don’t like.
I apply a similar but even more liberal technique in my screenplays. I either base a character on a real person, put him in a real setting, but expose him or her to a fictive situation. Or any mix of the above.
For example for my screenwriting software test, I wrote a skit called “Santa on the Showboat” based on picture taking with Santa right here in town. The skit features three major characters, Santa based on real Santa,…hahaha, who is real Santa?…..and the city manager and his wife.
The story is about the city manager who has never had his pics taken with Santa, so his wife escorts him to the Showboat. What ends up happening, is that Santa throws the manager of the boat because he raised taxes and got rid of fowl in the city. And Santa has a full backyard of chickens. And all the hilarious stuff in between.
It’s a magical combination that I found out works.
I applied it in the script “Riddleyville Clowns” which is totally inspired by local happenings in 2006 that I have taken to an extreme. A local resident put together a clown parade to celebrate the city’s 175th anniversary. I used the parade as a vehicle for the entire screenplay that takes us through life in small town America to witness a disaster.
Difference between writing and screenwriting: which is more difficult?
1-Back to square one, depends on your skills and knowing yourself what you can do.
2-In screenwriting you must be able constantly to visualize the scenes, you have to see them before you write them or as you write them, and know how to separate them.
3-Regular writing is more of a conglomerate, you don’t have to visualize as much and you are describing the events, rather than breaking them into different scenes.
The blog-why do I have it
I have the blog as a platform much like a politician. The publishing and the entertainment industries require that you develop your audience or following that will ultimately buy your book and come to see your movie.
It makes sense to me. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a politician.