Follow me during this holiday season as I will write about Christmas traditions in the old country Czech Republic and in the new world USA.
It will be the three weeks of Christmas when the stores in Czech Republic opened their doors for three consecutive Sundays. The first one coming up Dec. 8th is known as the bronz Sunday, the next Dec. 15th is the Silver Sunday and finally the pinnacle of all is the Golden Sunday on Dec. 22nd, so follow me for some holiday magic as I will also introduce my virtual storefront page Emma’s Store.
Copyright (c) 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova
Wherever we lived around the world, we have always adhered to the customs of that particular country, while keeping alive our own Czech traditions and culture. We’ve just celebrated American Thanksgiving with a true feast of turkey and all the trimmings. It took three of us to get it ready in two full days. But, compared to the other tradition I want to talk about it was easy.
Today, I must admit that the toughest tradition to keep alive is the native language and that is Czech. As a rule, we always spoke Czech at home. It got a lot tougher, when we got visitors.
I remember when Joe Brabenec from Reed City, Michigan used to visit with my parents during holidays and on Sundays. Joe’s parents were Czech, and his mother never learnt English. On the other hand, Joe knew only a few Czech words from his mother.
Whenever, he came over to see my parents, he wanted to practice Czech.
“Jak se mas?” he asked, “How are you?”
Unlike English, Czech language distinguishes between singular and plural you. When asking more than one person, it’s always “Jak se mate?” Also in Czech language, you can never use singular pronoun when talking to a strange person.
So, mixing up singular and plural pronouns and corresponding verbs usually results in comic situations. Weaker characters can even get offended if you use the singular form of the pronoun.
I used the singular form of you in French when speaking to Claude, my daughter’s mother-in-law, when she took me to the airport in Lyon. She gave me a piercing look through her huge eyeglasses. I turned red; I knew I made a mistake.
And as we diversify as a family, the challenge of preserving Czech grows. My children’s spouses are French and American. The common language of course is English due to its simplicity and universality.
But, the advantage is that the grandchildren will be bilingual and trilingual. In a global world, I cannot think of a greater gift than the gift of language.
There is a saying in Czech that you’re as many persons as the languages you speak. I was fully trilingual, when we lived in Montreal in the early 1990s. As time went by, I forgot French.
Now, that our granddaughter Ella is visiting with us, my French is coming back to me. It is like opening a completely new door into the world.
When my mother’s German neighbor Irmi passed away in Big Rapids, her German daughter Ellen arrived in US to make all the funeral arrangements without speaking a word of English. If it wasn’t for my mom and Irmi’s bilingual German friends, Irmi would not have been able to finally rest in ashes.
Back in old Czechoslovakia, we all had mandatory Russian from fourth grade through university, a relic of communism. But, when I finally met a Russian man at the local grocery store Meijer, I was not able to communicate with him except for, “Zdravstvuj tovarisch.” That means, “Hello comrade.” I can’t blame him for laughing.
During our European travels with my daughter Dr. Emma Palova-Chavent, we dined with French doctor Danielle in Morzine, FR.
“I speak zero English and I will be visiting with my daughter in Great Britain,” he boasted as if ignorance was ever a virtue while making a zero with his thumb and forefinger.
I thought, “Buddy, you’re going to have a hard time.”
Note: I am back to writing about our family saga “Greenwich Meridian” that is now growing. I have moved the travel stories on a new page Travelogue where I will continue to write about the rest of my big trip to four European countries.
It was day one for newly born Josephine Marie Palova as we took the room at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo by a storm.
“This is the only time you can go to a hospital happy,” said my daughter Dr. Emma Palova-Chavent. She works as an emergency doctor in Seymour, France. “Dress up we’re going to be taking a lot of photos.”
We entered the room all decked out in latest fashion and make-up. That is except for me, because I had to leave my newest dress at Charles DeGaulle Airport for excessive weight in order to get back to US from my big trip.
When we peaked at Josephine with her big eyes, all content and inquisitive, I knew it was “our baby.”
“Guys, she has your big eyes,” said Maranda, the happy mother of the newborn baby. “I wonder if they’re going to be olive color.
Then, we started all posing for photos with any and every device we had on us. You name it, we had it; from Cannon cameras to I-phones and Verizon’s Samsungs. Josephine is quite photogenic with big eyes, black hair and perfect facial features.
“I am the Godmother,” said Emma posing in front of the nurse’s board. “I know it’s not a cool as being the Godfather, but it is cool.”
Now, with the newest addition we’re a multicultural international family. All of us were born in former Czechoslovakia. Emma’s husband is French, and they permanently reside in France with daughter Ella. They are considering coming to US when the time is right.
“Timing is everything,” one of my former editors used to say.
Maranda and Josephine Palova are the only true Americans in the family. The rest of us are naturalized Americans, except for my husband Ludek and my son Jake, who remain Czechs.
“We want to follow the Czech traditions,” said Maranda.
Even though the family name is Pala, in Czech language, the female takes on the –ova ending to her name, turning it into Palova.
That’s the same reason why my name is Palova, while my husband’s name is Pala.
Welcome to the family, Josie and Maranda. You have entered the “Greenwich Meridian” saga.
Entrepreneurial encounters will take us to the stars
By Emma Palova
I am starting a new screenwriting blog with focus on a screenplay that I have written in 2008-2009 when my husband Ludek was working in Wisconsin.
I was still writing for the Lowell Ledger stories about window donations, charities and non-profits right before Christmas. I purchased Final Draft Scriptwriter’s Suite, and tested the program on a short one-act play “Santa on the Showboat.”
Every day after work, I sat behind a PC computer, after working on a Mac at the office, and started spitting out words.
“You’re bilingual,” said former Lowell Light & Power manager Tom referring to my two computers at work, side by side. But, I am also fully bilingual in English and Czech.
I wrote a screenplay “Riddleyville Clowns” in three months, and I registered it with Writer’s Guild of America, West WGAW. I have the certificate framed and displayed.
“That in itself is a feat,” local businesswoman complimented me.
I consider myself and my friends as keen entrepreneurs. During my recent visit to Europe, I encountered many of them. One entrepreneur Ales Kobylik owns an information firm TechnoDat in Zlin, another one owns York Café in Vizovice.
“That’s named after the owner of the building Eda York,” said Petr Surovec, owner of the York Café.
Some 20 years ago, I gave advise to my cousin cartoonist Olin Pink to start a graphic firm. He learned the design program and established the successful Grafik firm located in Stipa.
Most recently, I told my sister-in-law Jarmila to start a baking business CJ Aunt Jarmilka’s Cukrovi. I designed her blog. She is a successful baker who also lives in Stipa.
When the Parnell store was for sale, I was ready to buy it, but somebody beat me to it. Last year, I started writing my memoir “Greenwich Meridian where East meets West.” I designed the blog EW Emma’s Writings on WordPress to support its publication.
Now, I am caught in a web of words, SEO and SEM, content writing, grouping and regrouping of words. One of the most wanted skills on Elance and Indeed is knowledge of WordPress which took me in turn to programming and coding.
As a rule coming from journalistic background, I usually don’t write about my feelings, even though that’s what most blogs are about. But, this time I have to break that rule.
Two days ago I found a big box with Amazon fulfillment services sticker on it. I didn’t open it for a day. I do have Shop Emma’s Amazon on my blog in an effort to monetize the site along with Google translator and Adwords.
When I finally opened the big box, I found two Jedi inspired bathrobes brown, furry with white checkered sash made in China. The mysterious robes with a Star Wars tag and a big brown pocket on the right side continue to puzzle me. The box came without any invoice. Maybe it’s an early Christmas present or is there a message?
In the fast changing world of Internet where words and tags mean everything, it makes me wonder. I have been dealing lately with a lot of conflict between sisters. And that is not only between natural birth sisters, but other people’s sisters. Now, I understand why the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov wrote Three Sisters.
“You have to let it channel, otherwise it’s not going to be any good,” he gave advise on writing.
I don’t have a sister, and I am glad. I used to wish I had one, that maybe we could be friends. I have witnessed hatred between sisters that goes all the way to the grave, the crib or the altar.
I write about hatred between sisters in my memoir Greenwich Meridian where East meets West. One of the sisters is my Godmother and aunt. When I visited Czech Republic in 2006, I wasn’t allowed to say hi to her. She in turn didn’t pick up the phone.
A few minutes ago, I found out somebody else’s sister ordered the bathrobes as a birthday present.
CJ Aunt Jarmilka’s desserts. Post Holiday sweet dreams.
I now design and write blogs and pages on WordPress for other people as well. Email me for a quote at email@example.com. I offer unbound creativity, uniqueness, originality and SEO, SEM skills. Check out Aunt’s sweet site at http://jkarmaskova.wordpress.com
This is the ninth installment in my travel adventure series through European countries including France, Spain, Czech Republic and Switzerland. I was gone for five weeks to a different world with different languages, and different traditions. So, now after coming back on Oct. 9th to Lowell,Michigan, it feels like I’ve been in a time capsule.
Geneva, Switzerland Oct. 2nd
We planned a day trip to Switzerland with my daughter Emma partially because of my Lowell area following of friends. A great portion of Lowell residents are of Swiss origin including my neighbors and one of my best friends.
I’ve never been to Switzerland, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve only heard stories how beautiful the country is, and I remembered my friend’s pictures of Swiss Alps in her office. Switzerland borders with France to the east and shares the language, but not the membership in the European Union. So, the country has its own currency, and that is the Swiss frank, which has a lower value than the Euro, but higher than US dollar.
Our intention was to go to Lausanne which is located on Lake Geneva just like the city of Geneva. We took the back roads to avoid the 40- frank sticker for using the freeway crossings between the two countries. Soon after we left the cheese city of Poligny, home to the famous Comte cheese, the narrow road started climbing. We were stuck behind a truck, that wouldn’t let us pass.
When we finally lost the truck, the signs to Lausanne also disappeared. Now, instead of Lausanne, all the signs pointed to Geneva. The two cities are not exactly close to each other. Each city is on a different side of Lake Geneva that stretches for more than 50 kilometers.
We stopped at a border town already high in the mountains, where you could hear bells ringing. I thought it was the train coming. Then I looked up, and the cows that were grazing on a steep hill, had bells tied around their necks. I knew we were in for a Swiss adventure, and not just chocolate and milk.
“This is a classical echec,” Emma said. “We’re on our way to Geneva. Those cows have the bells so they don’t get lost.”
“What is echec?” I asked about the strange French word that doesn’t have an exact translation but derives its origins from chess terminology. I was yet to find out what echec really is.
We arrived into beautiful Geneva instead of Lausanne on a sunny afternoon. People on the streets were already wearing winter coats and jackets. We walked into the old town across a bridge, where the big river Rhone flows into Lake Geneva on the backdrop of snow-capped Alps with eternal ice. The water sparkled in the sun with a million rays. A landscape on the bank lined by beautiful buildings was in the shape of a clock.
“This is breathtaking,” I said.
Boats and yachts were cruising on the mysterious lake that does not give away its secrets.
“I got to get some monkey money,” Emma said referring to any currency that is not Euro.
Well, the monkey money, could not buy us a lunch that we could regularly afford in France or in Czech Republic, not to talk about Spain.
We ended up eating steamed food in a paper dish at probably the only health food restaurant in Geneva. Signs advertising menus on the sidewalks in front of restaurants did not go below 30 franks for a dish of tartiflette or potatoes with cheese. Even a burger in Geneva cost 15 franks.
We walked into a Geneva “patisserie” or coffee house and did not buy their cream filled squares covered with chocolate and a logo, because we were full of the steamed food.
“There will be other patisseries like this where we can have a dessert,” we thought.
Well, there were not. We did stop to buy some Swiss chocolate in the new town at La Chocolaterie de Geneve. The friendly owner lady offered us extra chocolates to taste.
But, still if I didn’t have Emma by my side with her knowledge of French, I would have trouble communicating in this heavily tourist European metropolis.
Also, while window shopping, most stores did not indicate prices of their goods and the famous Swiss watches. The Chanel store did not label prices either, but it was cool to check out their tweed-covered purses.
So, in the end we had Swiss franks left, and spent them at a tiny border town meaningless gas station on our way back to France for a beer and a coffee.
I have safely returned home after travelling around several European countries including France, Spain, Czech Republic and Switzerland.
This is the eighth installment in my adventure travel series when I decided to step back into the past to fuel my memoir “Greenwich Meridian, where East meets West.”
Lost in Brno- Czech Republic
I had one entire day on Sept. 25th to relive it all in post-revolution Brno, while my friend Jane worked her post-revolution work for an Austrian firm.
“Just follow the tram tracks into town,” she said.
Now, that was easier said than done. Brno was and is a pulsing metropolis that has cleaned itself up, so it is completely en par with Prague, Paris and Geneva. As I got into town, I found myself caught in an entire web of pedestrian zones surrounding a big park; they all seemed to lead onto Jost Boulevard.
I never heard of Jost Boulevard, and I didn’t recognize any of the huge buildings that graced it. When I asked my friend Jane about the name of the boulevard, she said it used to be Boulevard of the Freedom Defenders. I still find that fascinating the resemblance of what Alexander Dumas once wrote in reference to the French Revolution.
“The difference between patriotism and treason is only in the dates.”
One of Brno’s famous fashionable promenade aka corzo is Czech Street where high-end stores are located as well a high-end restaurants. I stopped at Stopkova Pivnice for classical Czech fare, that is pork, sauerkraut and dumplings. The dish is still reasonably priced compared to the other European countries that I have visited.
Just to make sure that we could find each other, Jane and I had a rendezvous at Mc Donald’s on Svoboda’s Square. Not only did the name of that square didn’t change, it still, after all these years, served as a podium for politicians.
As I approached the square, there were police vehicles everywhere. I paused to look what was happening. Czech president Milos Zeman was giving a speech. I remember standing in similar places during the week that led up to Velvet Revolution in 1989.
Czech Republic now is part of the European Union. The country has chosen not to have the Euro currency, but accepts Euro money for historical and cultural preservation projects such as the one we visited in Brno, that is Castle Spilberg.
I marveled at the beautiful vistas from the castle. It was a perfect bird’s eye view on a beautiful sunny evening.
Jane and I looked at each other as we took in the “Great successes of socialism,” the apartment mega complexes at a distance that give living space to 50,000 people each. Brno is surrounded by them. They stand as quiet sentinels to socialist policies under which all people were entitled to work and housing.
That night, as we met up with our foreign student friend, Ismael, we raised the half-liter mugs of excellent Czech beer, that hasn’t changed its quality. We were in a retro pub “U Jenika” with old taps for beer, that was fully packed to the rafters with a band. We ordered some strong cheese called “tvaruzky” on bread with butter.
“To all the socialist successes, and we’re part of them,” we laughed.
Yes, we have lived the socialist dream that never quite fully materialized.
This is the seventh installment in my travel adventures series from France, Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland. I started my trip out of Lansing, MI on Sept. 3rd to explore new cultures, and to venture into the past to Czech Republic.
My memoir “Greenwich Meridian” tracks our family immigration saga that now spans three generations.
Czech Republic, Brno, where it all started Sept. 24, 25, 26
On a chilly September night I got off the yellow StudentAgency bus in front of the Grand Hotel in Brno. I had my graduation party here in 1986 after completing my studies at the Technical University.
I realized that this was my first visit in almost three decades to the intellectual capital of Moravia.
Our immigration saga started right here in this University City. My dad professor Vaclav Konecny after graduating from Masaryk University with a degree in physics taught at the university and at the Technical Institute. My parents lived in an old apartment near the children’s hospital. Dad had to haul coal upstairs to heat the apartment.
“Your brother cried and cried, so we got yelled at by the landlord,” said mom.
At the same time, Africa gained independence from the British government, and was ready to start a path of its own.
Dad was recruited by African university officials to teach math at the University of Khartoum, better known as Harvard of Africa in 1964. He spoke fluent English, and had the desire to move ahead with his career, as well as to make decent money for a new apartment.
“I was ready for this,” he said.
Dad most certainly did move ahead when he decided not to return back to Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion of tanks known as Prague Spring in 1968.
“We had a consensus with colleagues that we’re not going back,” he said.
This all went through my head, as I stood in front of the Masaryk’s University that regained its name back following the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
I spent stormy four years in Brno as a student mother, a wife and a daughter of expatriated parents.
I met my best lifelong friend Eva from Kromeriz here on a train to the mandatory hops brigade. I made tons of new friends, like the one I was just going to meet after all these years, Jane. At the school, we were a strange mix of slick Brno residents, and us the so-called outsiders. As outsiders, we commuted every week to Brno, and lived at the dorms. We got along well, and complimented each other in many aspects.
Even though the Brno city slicker students knew everything, and knew where everything was, we had our so-called country wisdom. That country wisdom and broader knowledge from the secondary gymnasium guided us through many disasters. We even had a foreign student from Afghanistan, Ismael, who could hardly speak Czech, but made it through the four-year university drill.
The drill consisted of calculus, concrete and steel constructions, architectural drafting. For me, a spirited literary soul, the technical stuff was overwhelming. But, the technical studies were the only way for me to attain a university degree, after our faux pas of returning home for the presidential amnesty in 1973. The communist government punished us by not to letting my dad teach again, and I couldn’t study any humanities. Ironically, the technical studies became my vehicle out.
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