Lowell, MI – I am pleased to announce that the winner of Emma’s virtual book launch drawing for a free signed copy of “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” is Joan Young of Ludington, MI.
I would like to thank Jakub Pala for moderating the event and special thanks goes to author Donald Levin for technical assistance in setting up the virtual book launch on the Be.Live streaming platform.
You can order your books now by commenting here, messaging me on Facebook or email.
If you order by Nov. 22, the shipping of “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” will be free. If you live in the Greater Grand Rapids area, you can pick up your signed copy at LowellArts on Nov. 28 and on Dec. 13 from noon to 2 p.m.
Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Following are Emma’s author events for November and December. I will be signing books at LowellArts on Nov. 28 & Dec. 13 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on both days.
You can also order your books here by sending an email to Emma: firstname.lastname@example.org, calling or messaging on Facebook messenger. You can pick up your signed copies on the following dates at LowellArts: Nov. 28 and Dec. 13 from 12 to 2 p.m.
Emma’s Virtual Book Launch on Facebook on Sunday Nov. 15 at 5 p.m.
You can submit your questions in the comment section for a chance to win a free signed copy of the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir.”
The Lowell Ledger article ” New memoir by Emma Palova about family’s escape from communism” hit the stands today in the greater Lowell area in Michigan.
The article captures the essence of our lives on the run from former Czechoslovakia to the U.S. The publication date coincided with the Czech Independence Day. Former Czechoslovakia was born on Oct. 28 1918, 102 years ago. The country founded its existence after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the aftermath of WWI.
The book “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” about our family immigration saga is slated for Nov. 12 publication on Amazon.
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Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
I decided to organize myself on this lovely Sunday.
We spent a great day on the beach yesterday in Pentwater. I was delighted to see a gentleman reading on his Kindle just eight feet away from us, while I was making notes in my $1 notepad from the Dollar store.
Pointing at my blue hardcover notebook and in the gentleman’s direction, I said to my husband: “It’s a long road from the writing in this notebook to that kindle on the beach, but it can be done.”
Check your inboxes for my brand new author’s enewsletter hot off the presses with a sample chapter from the upcoming “Greenwich Meridian Memoir. “
Note: Following is an excerpt from the chapter: “Living in socialism” from my upcoming book- the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” set for Oct. 16 release on Amazon.
The book is available for preorder in Kindle format at:
Continued: Living in socialism
Among interesting events at workplaces were birthday celebrations. Ludek described a typical birthday celebration at the ZPS factory as follows; the celebrant typically brought in a bottle of plum brandy and poured everyone from each department a shot. After work, the celebration continued at the local pubs. There was a lot of birthday celebrations throughout the years. Milestone celebrations like turning 50, meant you got a fancy watch from the company and a huge party at a local pub.
During national holidays, the workers would steal anything and take it through the gates without being checked because there were so many of them leaving at once for the parades. So, the parades were known as the “March of Thieves.” The parades actually started inside the factory. On the matter of overtime, one individual was selected to punch for all those, who waited somewhere outside the factory behind the gates.
The major employers in Zlin were Svit and ZPS; their huge factory complex spanned several blocks in town. The shoe factory Svit was built during the Thomas Bata era in the 1920s. It employed 10,000 workers. ZPS was the mechanical engineering factory, employing also 10,000. Women worked mainly in Svit, while men worked in ZPS.
Our hometown Zlin grew thanks to the T & A Bata firm, when Tomas Bata was known as the “king of shoes” (aka the creator) of the global shoe emporium with export of shoes to the U.S. as well. The growth and success of the Bata firm were attributed to a large army contract with the Austro-Hungarian Empire to make shoes for 5,200 soldiers.
The core of city Zlin boasts the fine architecture of functionalism; the former Bata headquarters building “Twenty-one”, a high-rise reaching 254 feet and the 11- story Hotel Moscow. During socialism, the shoe empire became the factory Svit, where people worked for generations. In socialism, the economy was planned accordingly into one-year plans, five-year plans and ten-year plans. All the companies had to strive to fulfill the plans to the highest percentage for bonuses at the end of the year. The bulletin boards at the different workplaces boasted the percentages of fulfilled plans.
The average salary for women working in the Svit factory was 1,200 crowns; for men working in ZPS it was 2,500 to 3,000. Since, the work or the economy didn’t fluctuate, most jobs were for the entire lifetime until retirement.
“You couldn’t quit,” said Ludek.
According to Ludek, even if you wanted to quit, you couldn’t because you had to give a six-months’ notice, and the other employer wouldn’t wait for you that long. On top of that you had to sign a work contract.
Of course, there was no such thing as calling in sick; you had to have a doctor’s script that you are sick. Not showing up for work was called American time off or “A.” If you did it for three days in a row, the police would come looking for you.
If you were sick and stayed at home, you had to be in bed, because regular controls at home were conducted if you’re not cheating.
“They even touched the bed and the sheets if they were still warm,” Ludek said.
You got paid when you were sick, and the health care was free for all. There was a universal one crown fee per prescription of any drug. People often ask, if there was a shortage of drugs and doctors.
Of course, there was a shortage of everything due to the planned economy. You got used to most of the shortages, but some were just plain embarrassing like not enough toilet paper, hygiene products or laundry detergent.
On the other hand, there were fashionable dresses in nice boutiques, pretty shoes and fancy parties with crystal glasses and porcelain plates. The paradox of not having basic needs fulfilled sharply contrasted with the opulence of the fashion, including home fashions inside homes and apartments. People took good care of their homes and took pride in their furniture. Women spent days polishing the furniture, and usually you couldn’t touch anything when visiting a friend. You were designated a safe spot to sit, where you didn’t jeopardize the cleanliness and the order of things.
Most products were made in Czechoslovakia or they were imported from the countries of the RVHP–the association of mutual economic assistance such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany, Romania and U.S.S.R.
You spent a lot of time waiting around for anything and everything, quite often it was in lines for desirable items like bananas or meat.
The grocery stores were small with only a limited amount of shopping baskets, so you waited for the shopping basket, then you waited inside the store at the dairy counter for cheese, and at the meat counter for meat, you waited in a line for the cash register and you waited for the bus to get home with your groceries. There you waited for the elevator to get to your apartment.
The waiting game was due to everything being small and crowded. Overall, the country is small with only 15.6 million population and territory of 127,875 square feet kilometers in the heart of Europe. So, it has traditionally been the target of other countries in their quest for more land.
At the time, there were only savings banks in the country except for the Commerce Bank in Prague that handled international currency. People got paid money not checks. Most of them kept the money at home and spent it for basic needs.
Nothing was really cheap; you pretty much spent your entire paycheck on life’s necessities. And that definitely discounted gas and telephone bills, because only a few people had cars or telephones. However, most people were not in debt, and mortgages didn’t exist. Something as bizarre as a non-returnable loan for newlyweds existed.
It wasn’t uncommon for several generations to live in one house. But the main housing was in apartments, that were affordable, but you had to wait for them for years. There were cheaper state-owned apartments and apartments owned by the cooperatives. Condos did not exist. This set-up was due to the socialist ownership of everything from apartments to land, factories and businesses that happened through the major nationalizations in 1945 and 1948. Houses were individually owned and usually built by owners. Most houses were in villages, and these included very old buildings like my Grandfather Joseph’s beloved “Ranch” at 111 Krnovska in Vizovice. The old buildings known as “chalupas” required extensive repair challenged by the shortage of contractors and materials.
However, the main source of the communist pride were the apartment mega complexes such as the “Southern Slopes” housing 20,000 people, which was one- fourth of the population of Zlin. These were dubbed as the “building successes of socialism.” The country is sprinkled with these and their inhabitants are happy to live in them. Most of them have been turned into condos.
Atheism vs Religion
A friend asked me to write about religion in socialist Czechoslovakia. Under the Marxism Leninism philosophy, the official religion was atheism–not believing in God or any deity. The church properties were confiscated along with everything else and belonged to the state as of 1945. But people went to churches, some secretly, others openly.
There were only two denominations that my husband Ludek and I could recall: Catholic and Evangelic. Each town had one church only, and the Catholic church usually prevailed depending on the region. The churches were old dating back to feudalism and the reigning aristocracy. It took 150 years to build the new Saint Mary’s Church in Stipa due to a pause in construction because of the 1620 war. The construction started under Albrecht of Valdstejn in 1615 and ended in 1765 thanks to the money from the Rottal countess.
The clear and present danger of going to church mainly impacted teachers and career-oriented people who were trying to get ahead of the game. It impacted both my father and my aunt.
Although we come from a large Catholic family, Aunt Martha, who was a teacher in Stipa, could not go to church. Many years later, I found out that she was a member of the Old Catholic Church, a chapter located inside a chapel at the cemetery across the street from the Konecny house and that she had sponsored a priest in his education. The chapel is also a tomb of the count Seilern family, a major influence in the Stipa region with the Chateau Lesna.
One of the major wars, the Thirty Years’ War, in Czech history was over religion. What I consider the sad part of modern history is that after the downfall of socialism in Czechoslovakia, the majority of people never returned back to the church.
However, a big tradition centered around the parishes stayed intact–that is the feast of the saints. In our case, it was the Feast of Saint Mary in Stipa on September 8 th. These feasts or pilgrimages were much like homecomings or festivals in the U.S. The entire families gathered for the feasts for an opulent celebration of the saints. In many cases, animals were butchered and ladies baked the famous pastry-kolache or strudels. A dance took place at the local hall on the night before the feast. This often turned into a brawl, as people got drunk on plum brandy. Carnival rides always came into town with booths and paper roses. I loved these paper colorful crepe roses on wires; I wish I had kept at least one. Other booths sold gingerbread hearts of all sizes and for all hearts.
In traditional pilgrimage places like Hostyn, the booths were set up all the time and opened for the season with hundreds of religious and non-religious items: rosaries, prayer books, medallions and miniature statues. Pilgrims streamed to Hostyn, both on foot and on buses.
That brings me to celebrations of holidays in general. In villages like Stipa, many people raised animals for meat: rabbits, pigs, geese, turkeys, chickens and ducks. That was the primary source of meat for the holidays. Most meat was roasted, served with creamy sauces or sauerkraut and dumplings. Pork and chicken were often fried into wiener schnitzel. Salads or vegetables were not as common as in the U.S. due to their year-round shortage. Soups were always a part of a holiday meal, mostly beef or chicken. In some households, people made their own noodles.
As a rule, women baked for the weekends all sorts of pastries, some for breakfast. But there was also an abundance of pastries on the market; at the bakeries, coffee shops, patisseries and in grocery stores. The patisseries served as cafes with people hanging around in them sipping coffee or wine, while enjoying a “rakvicka.” This dessert has always fascinated me; the pastry is in the form of a small coffin filled with delicious cream and ornately decorated on the top with whirls and swirls of more cream.
Among the most famous baked goods, were “rohliky” or bread rolls in the shape of a crescent, some even came with poppy seeds. And bread was always good, whether baked round with hard crust or in loaves in small or large bakeries.
Other homemade products included sausages and smoked meat. The butchering of the family pig usually took place in winter and before the holidays, so there was plenty of meat on the table. Socialism with its chronic lack of basic goods, drove the need for self-sufficiency specifically in the villages and craftsmanship as well. People were forced to be more creative in many different ways.
Many households in villages and towns were self-sufficient with everything homemade or home grown. National artist Joseph Lada illustrated the traditional festivities: The Feast of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6, the butchering of the family pig in the yard with onlookers, Christmas by the tall tiled stoves, autumn campfires with fire-roasted potatoes and summer fun by the ponds with the willows.
The Czech Republic enjoys four distinct seasons: mild winters, early springs, hot summers and moderate autumns. The seasons are conducive to year-round vacationing and recreation. In the socialist era, people traveled freely between the two parts of the country, Czech and Slovak republics. Slovakia is the home to the Tatra Mountains. Travel to other socialist countries was also accommodated.
Recreation was encouraged and subsidized through the membership in the Revolutionary Union Movement (ROH) at the workplaces. Some companies had their own recreation centers in the mountains like Jelenovska. We visited this center in the mid-1980s. Much fancier centers belonged to the leaders of the Communist Party.
The ultimate goal of socialism aimed at the health and well-being of the population and the country. However, that was contradicted by the inability to act freely in many aspects such as travel to the Western countries and overall limitations of freedom of speech and press.
The press of the socialist era represented the opinions and views of tolerated organizations. The number one daily newspaper was “The Red Truth,” the official paper of the Communist Party gloated with the party philosophy and the party news. Then, there was a version for the younger generation called, “The Young Front,” which was a little bit less biased. After that, came “The People News” and “The Agricultural News.” All of them were heavily censored for content and inuendo. Journalists had to go to political schools, which were hard to get into.
The older generation like my grandpa read “The People News” only on Sunday afternoons. At the Gymnasium Zlin, we had to recite the news in the “Citizens’ Education” class. The news was usually about the president sending a congratulatory letter to another leader of a socialist country or about the regular Communist Party conventions.
The TV wasn’t much better, if not worse. There was one TV station–The Czechoslovak TV run by the government. The books and magazines were less censored. I sent a lot of novels to mom Ella.
I will be participating in October Virtual Book Fest with a reading on Oct. 5 and an interview on Oct. 23.
Zoom Reading:October 5, 2020 @ 7pm – 7:30pm
Zoom Interview:October 23, 2020 @ 7pm – 8pm
Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.
Big Rapids, MI – My mother, Ella Konecny, turns 83 on this beautiful summer day. We celebrated her birthday yesterday in Big Rapids with a cookout on the deck. Mom always puts on a feast: juicy ribs, coleslaw, mashed potatoes and her famous nutty cake roll, all preceded by a traditional Czech platter of cheese, salami and home-made pickles Znojmo style.
Together with my father Vaclav, they’ve been living in this small university town, home to Ferris State University, for more than four decades.
Mom was born Drabkova in former communist Czechoslovakia on Aug. 23, 1937 in Zlin to a working class family. My grandparents Anna and Joseph Drabek worked hard to get mom into the university so she could become the future pharmacist.
My mother has inspired the memoir Greenwich Meridian, where East meets west about the family immigration saga. She didn’t want to leave the communist country after the Soviet invasion on the night of August 20-21 in 1968.
The memoir, slated for Oct. 16, 2020 publication is dedicated to both of my parents because they have always inspired me both in hard and good times with their dedication and perseverance. It is available now on preorder on Amazon at:
Their journey from the Moravian hilly villages of Vizovice and Stipa to Big Rapids in Michigan was tumultuous with many twists and turns.
Some of the milestones included the 1973 return to hardline Czechoslovakia from Texas, and then the escape back into the New World for my dad in 1976. Mom joined him in 1980.
Dad landed the math professor job at the Ferris State University, and that finally anchored them permanently in their new home.
To this day, mom says she loved her bio lab technician job also at the university.
Their true story has also inspired my fiction in my first Shifting Sands Short Stories book. “The Temptation of Martin Duggan” contains some bits and pieces from the early years of immigration.
I wrote that story shortly after my immigration to the USA in 1989. When I compare some of the elements of the short story to the memoir, I consider them Visceral in character, coming from a gut feeling.
The main character in the story is professor Martin Duggan obsessed with his own quest for perfection.
May you both enjoy many more years of love, good health and optimism. Thank you for all your love and support.
For chapters “Prague Spring, Part I” & “Prague Spring, Part II from the memoir click on the following links:
Note: Today is the 52nd anniversary of the invasion of former Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army. The historic event prompted entire generations to defect the country in search of freedom. The “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” is our family immigration story from former Czechoslovakia to the USAspanning two generations.Following is a chapter- Prague Spring, 1968 from the memoir.
Excerpt from the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir”
By Emma Palova
The 1968 Prague Spring was looming over Czechoslovakia. On the night of August 20th, the country was invaded by the Soviet tanks and the armies of the Warsaw Pact. Hundreds of tanks roared all over the country in the full-blown invasion that impacted an entire generation of immigrants to the U.S., Germany, Canada and Australia. The country was occupied, and the Russians set up military bases both in Slovakia and in the Czech region. The Russians punished the Czechoslovak liberal government for attempting to create “socialism with human face.” The reformist movement was led by Alexander Dubcek, and late president Vaclav Havel who was part of a signatory group called Charta 1968. The Charta group proposed a series of reforms that meant to ease restrictions on the media, free speech and travel.
At the time of the occupation, my mother was on a spa stay in Carlsbad in Western Bohemia, a famous town known for its 12 healing springs.
“I went to the colonnade in the morning,” mom said. “People were crying, listening to the radio. There were huge demonstrations, as people knocked down statues of the communist leaders.”
Mom had to stay three more days, because the roads were closed due to tanks. Then she took a detour bus through Sumava to Brno.
“We had a new apartment in Brno, but I left for Vizovice to be with my parents,” she said.
There was no telephone connection, according to mom. But the borders were open for anyone to leave freely.
“My friends were leaving the country, crossing the border on foot with just a suitcase in their hands,” she said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere.”
She left by herself on Sept. 28, 1968 for Africa leaving us behind with grandparents Anna and Joseph.
I learned this from horror stories, passed down from generation to generation, and from an interview conducted with my parents in Venice, Florida on March 5th 2013.
My parents came back to Czechoslovakia in 1969 to be reunited with us and the rest of the family for a brief moment in time. Dad left again, because the school year in Khartoum was beginning.
“I didn’t want to leave. We just wanted to save some money for a house in Brno,” mom said.
But, as the one-year anniversary of the occupation approached, mom packed up her belongings along with us. All three of us ended up in Vienna, Austria with the help of a friend from Vizovice, and flew back to Africa. Since the exit visa was extended until the end of 1970, mom was still hoping to return to Czechoslovakia.
“For two years I lived in a limbo,” she said not knowing what was going to happen.
But dad was determined not to return to the Soviet-occupied country.
“We were discussing it with colleagues,” he said. “We had a consensus that we were not going to return.”
So, that’s how all four of us finally ended up together as a family in the fall of 1969 in Khartoum, Africa. Relatives advised my parents not to return back to the country which was going through “normalization,” a hardline communist approach that purged all of Dubcek’s reforms. My heartbroken mother was crying constantly after dad said he wasn’t going to return home. So was my Grandmother Anna back in the old country. Total chaos prevailed, both inside the country and outside. People were leaving the country massively anyway they could, on foot or hidden in trunks of cars.
“Do not come back,” warned my paternal Grandfather Anthony in letters describing the grim situation in the homeland.
My Uncle John too was ready to leave the country, but Aunt Anna refused to. The border with neighboring West Germany was heavily guarded. Whoever got caught crossing was shot on the spot mercilessly. Everything was censored: letters, newspapers, TV, movies, as the Communist Party tightened its grip. Phones and apartments of suspicious individuals were tapped, that is if the residents were lucky enough and didn’t get locked up in jails. But so many did, like former president Vaclav Havel. The party put a damper on arts and culture allowing only the works of “socialist realism” about the working class called “proletariat.”
There was no TV in Khartoum at the time, so dad relied on British radio BBC and endless warning letters. He also listened to friends who had already immigrated to Canada. But mom still wanted to go home in spite of constant bad news. My parents fought often over the prospect of emigration. Unlike dad, mom did not speak English. She didn’t need to, because mom surrounded herself with Czech and Slovak friends. When shopping or in movies, dad translated for her. She argued that if she can’t speak English, she has to go home, and that her aging parents were getting increasingly sick.
“Do not return home,” was the overpowering message in letters coming from homeland.
Letters became a signature staple in our lives. From the origins of my name that mom saw in a novel with a letter greeting “Dear Emma” to most recent letters from Florida. In between there were hundreds of letters and postcards with stamps from Italy, Greece, Germany, Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia. I have an entire collection stored in boxes in the utility room that I call the Frankenstein Room.
It was a dark time for mom, as dad was arranging for a post-doctoral fellowship in Saskatoon, Canada with the help of a friend, Mr. Rosenberg. The airport in Khartoum was small, and people often sat or laid on the floor. We flew with Sudan Airways with a yellow tail and with Arabic letters. Sometimes we just went to the airport to watch a plane take off from the terrace. It just intensified mom’s longing for home, but helped her to reconnect. Many years later I adopted that habit of going to the airport whenever I was homesick in Grand Rapids.
My parents listened to the Beatles, and mom sported psychedelic colors and headbands typical for the late 60s, yellow and lime green. Ken was a British friend who used to visit with us. One night, he got so drunk on whiskey that he slept in the bathroom. Liquor was cheap in Sudan, who gained its independence from the British in 1956, but Britain maintained its influence and language domination.
My parents often talked about the palace revolutions during the Sudanese Civil War. I never quite understood what a palace revolution was as different governments changed hands, but it constantly inspired me. I can trace my inspiration to those days in Africa. During Ramadan, we heard the ghastly drumming coming from the other side of the Nile long into the night as the sounds carried into the river valley. I can still hear them today if I close my eyes.
Mom has always been proud of her good looks that she got from Grandfather Joseph. She had dark brown, almost black straight hair that she permed, warm brown eyes, sharp eyebrows, nice complexion and a slim figure.
“I was the most beautiful one there,” once she said about a ballroom dance. Mom always attributed that sentence to a woman named Miluska, but I think she was actually talking about herself. Until recently, mom dyed her hair dark brown, but finally after so many years, the color would not stick. So, she reluctantly went gray. Mom has a theatrical habit of standing up from a dinner table, as she talks about the same events from her life over and over again, much like my Grandpa Joseph did.
“She always wanted an intermission during a play,” Grandpa used to laugh. He bought a miniature marionette theatre for mom and her sister Anna. As a true marionettist he pulled the strings and changed voices. Grandpa too would stand up from the table and make Caesar-like speeches. Mom and I inherited his theatrical manners. We both love movies, and I have written a screenplay. At some point, mom started wearing her signature coral orange lipstick that goes well with her teal colored outfits.
In her early 80s, she lightens up at any mention of her fine looks and personality.
“Really?” she smiles. “I still look good, and I lost some weight.”
In the African heat, mom started taking naps (siestas) after lunch. The nights cooled down considerably. We all slept in a large airy room adjacent to the living room with light green wooden furniture. The trash was deposited into a vertical shaft in the kitchen.
Mom is a good cook, as she picked up various dining customs and dishes in different countries. I should call her a “Cosmo” chef. But we all know her best for her baking. Back home she used to bake for weddings, including her own. She counteracts her baking fame with, “Where did you come up with that?” or “I hate baking.”
What she really hated was the prospect of leaving her homeland forever, even though it was inevitable considering the crisis in the country. Dad probably made up his mind to leave the country a long time before 1968. The country has always had a shortage of apartments. He finished his studies to the screaming of my brother and hauling coal to Mrs. Vyhlidal’s deteriorated apartment in Brno, in the region of Moravia.
To be continued by the next chapter: Mom’s Diary: in her own words
Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Palova. All rights reserved.