Lowell, MI – I continued to work on the Greenwich Meridian memoir this morning for the NaNoWriMo 50K word challenge. I logged in 2,948 words for a grand total of 43,485 words.
Mom Ella left for the U.S. for the second time on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1980 after a long battle for emigration visa from Czechoslovakia.
It was a sad farewell at the Ruzyne Airport in Prague on a rainy day.
Excerpts from chapter “Without mom”
I actually honed my writing skills on letters to the USA long before the Internet, mobile devices, keywords and hashtags.
Calling from Europe was expensive, so mom and I wrote to each other letters mailed in thin transluscent Air Mail envelopes with red and blue border. It was a celebration when I received a letter in the mail. It was mostly good news coming from the west side of the Atlantic; mom getting a job or new furniture for the house.
I can’t say the other way around. Eastern Europe was still under the grip of hardldine socialism in 1980, and it would stay that way for another long nine years. Letters were censored and the phones were bugged. Lines for food grew longer.
Living under the oppressive regime meant constant search for life’s necessities.
Once mom left for America so were gone her connections from the pharmacy on Main Square in Zlin. Mom had a long arm and she used it to get what we needed from meat to toilet paper.
I had to start living like millions of other people. That meant standing in lines on Tuesdays for bananas and on Thursdays for beef. On weekends at 2 pm a truck came with Prerov beer. Grandpa Joseph wouldn’t drink any other beer.
On the other hand, life was more social in every aspect, because we had to use public transportation. There weren’t enough cars made, and there was a waiting list for them. The only brands available were a standard Skoda, and the lesser Trabant dubbed as Hitler’s vendetta because it was made in East Germany. That was before the wall went down.
However, most people didn’t have money to buy either the Skoda or the Trabant. We used public transportation choosing between buses, trains and trams. They were all equally uncomfortable and dirty.
a bag full of groceries every day, because the refrigerators were not big enough
for longer storage. And then of course there was the issue of different days of
deliveries of different groceries, not to speak of fresh produce and meat.
In the heat of the summer, people smelled of cheap fragrances. The better perfumes were imported from the West, and available only at Tuzex stores with fake money called bons.
Submit your questions about what was it like living in socialist Czechoslovakia.
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Lowell, MI – The January Daily Post writing prompt “If I could turn back time” hits close to home as I am writing the second half of the family immigration memoir “Greenwich Meridian.”
Whenever I sit behind the computer and think about the past, it evokes an entire spectrum of memories ranging from excellent to poor.
If there was a time machine, I would return to two big eras in my life. Chronologically speaking, first I would go back into the late 70s and mid-80s.
It was a tumultuous time in my life. In not even a decade, I managed to get married, have a first-born daughter Emma, finish prep school Gymnasium Zlin, work at a veterinarian institute and finally complete bachelor’s degree at the Technical University in Brno. I got my first car as a present from parents for graduating. It was a black Skoda Rapid LS, the sports version. What I didn’t manage to do was to get a driver’s license because of all the other studying. I regretted that later in my life when I came to the USA in the nineties.
So, why would I want to return to something as intense as the marriage while studying bundle?
There is one great reason that threaded through all that time. And those were my grandparents Anna & Joseph Drabek. They lived in Vizovice, Moravia, that is the central part of Czech Republic.
My grandpa bought a house in 1979 on the outskirts of Vizovice because he was sick of living in a tiny apartment overlooking the château park. He called the dilapidated dwelling “ranch.” It had the lucky street number 111.
That completely struck harmony with my husband Ludek and I, since we were sick of living in the massive apartment complex “Southern Slopes” that housed more than 30,000 people. These massive apartment complexes that sprang all over the Czech Republic were known as “Building successes of communism.”
People desperately tried to escape those modern concrete successes. Most often they escaped into the local pubs and breweries. The luckier ones had cottages and dwellings in the country. Thanks to my grandparents we were among the lucky ones.
And the beautiful years on the ranch ensued. It was an epic time.
Every weekend, we packed up Emma in a portable baby carry on, boarded the morning bus to Vizovice and for a while we forgot all about living in a concrete box at the concrete fort in Zlin, then Gottwaldov.
To this day, I hold Vizovice close to my heart. I went to kindergarten and first grade there and I made many friends on the street. I call them my “street friends.” We still meet when I go back on rare occasions usually for funerals.
Later with my husband, we made friends together in this plum brandy capital of the world surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. Yes, this city in the Walachian region rich in folklore, boasts the headquarters of the liquor giant “R. Jelinek” established in 1894. The plant spurts out 100 proof plum brandy into the whole world. The liquor is known for being able to “knock out everything that’s bad in you.” That covers bacteria, bad thoughts, habits, flu and earaches.
One moment at the ranch really stands out in my memory. As we were cleaning the house, we found 20-year old canned pork steaks that the owners Bohacovi left. The pork had beautiful pink color. I remember my mouth watering.
On Sunday, I opened the jars, sniffed and tasted the meat. Perfect. I made the best breaded steaks in my life. We all ate them and waited into the night for a sickness that never came.
There were countless episodes of searching for grandpa who loved to wander off into the local watering holes. His best excuse was that he was going to get some beverages and groceries so we can make lunch and dinner.
That Saturday in the heat of the summer, there was not a drop of water to drink on the dried out premises.
“Where is grandpa,” asked Ludek working on the bathroom. “I don’t have anything to drink.”
I was hand washing the universal cotton cloth diapers and Emma’s baby clothes in a bucket in the front yard, while grandma Anna was resting on a wooden bench. Grandma suffered from Parkinson’s disease. She spent most of the day laying on the bench that grandpa made for her. Baby Emma was sleeping in her carry-on.
“That beastie, I bet he’s at the hotel,” said grandma with a sigh.
She was referring to the local hotel with a restaurant known as the “People’s House” with the following inscription, “Equality, freedom, fraternity.”
I always wondered why the hotel had in its coat of arms the slogan of the French revolution. No one could answer my question.
“Ludek can you please go to the hotel and get grandpa to come home?” grandma requested.
“Okay, I’ll be right back,” Ludek hurried away hiding his ulterior motives.
As my stomach growled, I had a strange feeling that afternoon.
Grandma dozed off and I headed to the kitchen to figure out what we’re going to eat. There was some salami and old “rohliky” or Czech croissants, already chewy like a gum.
“Okay, we’re just going to have to wing it this time,” I thought to myself as I made some chewy sandwiches.
Minutes changed into hours and the sun started its path down the horizon.
“Emma, you’re going to have to go and get them,” grandma said struggling with the sandwich. “I’ll watch Emma.”
It wasn’t the first time or the last time that I had to drag out of the hotel the twosome.
I found both of them in great joy downing their 10th beer “kriegel” along with shots of brandy.
“Grandma says you gotta come home,” I begged. “We’re hungry and thirsty.”
“Come and have one with us and then we’ll go home,” grandpa laughed.
“You promise?” I downed the “kriegel” filled with Brod beer from nearby Uhersky Brod.
That was the best case scenario when they would finally agree to go back to the ranch as the dusk set in.
And I write about all this and much more in the memoir. I want to finish the memoir this year.
Part II If I could turn back time……Living in Canada coming next week.
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.
This is the fifth installment in my travel adventure series that covers three European countries including France, Spain and Czech Republic. I followed the footsteps of my past into Czech homeland as I visited places, friends and relatives that have had impact on our family immigration. I am currently working on my memoir “Greenwich Meridian” about the three-generation saga.
Zlin, Moravia- Sept.16th through Sept.24th
The names of many places, buildings and universities have changed since the fall of communism in 1989. So, as a rule, we had to meet with old friends and relatives best at train stations, because tracks haven’t moved or at bus stations.
In some cases, we even had to set up clues, marks and signs to recognize each other. Some of us had dyed, cut our hair or just plain have grown old and gray.
I easily recognized my friend Liba Hlavenka from Canada whom I haven’t seen in more than two decades in spite of the fact that we live in two neighboring countries.
“You live next to each other,” relatives asked, “That’s crazy you’re going to meet her here.”
Well, the distance between Montreal, where Liba lives, and Grand Rapids, where I live, is around 1,000 miles. It was a pure coincidence that we both happened to be in Zlin, Czech Republic, at the same time and in the same year. I wasn’t that lucky with my other classmates who too have immigrated; one also to Canada, the other to Sweden.
The other factor that plays a big role in brief rendezvous in the old country is that we all usually come back only for social occasions. That is most often for funerals, graduations, and rarely for weddings or school reunions. There just never seems to be enough time, money or energy.
I missed all the reunions from the elementary school in Stipa, from the secondary school in Zlin, and finally from the university in Brno. It wasn’t by my own choice. Thanks to modern technology, we could use Skype to communicate during our last elementary school reunion in 2011. However, it is not quite the same thing, as seeing your classmates in their true flesh and blood.
I always say that’s the price we pay for leaving the country where we were born, raised and went to school. We have left behind our living and dead relatives, a different culture and a way of life. Our family ancestors are buried at the local cemeteries, and usually we only get to see the inscription on their headstones.
I tried to recapture all that I have missed over the decades in a flurry of six days visiting the communities of my past: Zlin, Stipa, Vizovice, Kromeriz and Brno.
I met up with my longtime university friend Eva Petrikova-Laurencikova in the beautiful city of Kromeriz on a rainy Saturday. All of my friendships have survived the revolution, the European Union, changes both in politics and economics, changes in careers and partners, as well as the distance across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Do you remember how we used to eat beer cheese in a cup with onions?” Eva asked.
I could not remember the beer cheese, but I did remember the smoked pork knee we used to order in cheap student joints that smelled of beer in Brno.
Here we were, 27 years after graduation; Eva with her two grown children, Emma and John, and me feasting on a smoked pork knee at Velky Orel (Big Eagle) restaurant located on the main Big Square in Kromeriz. Each friend that I managed to see again, wanted to showcase something from the towns where we used to hang out.
“They brew their own beer here,” Eva said.
A lot of the pubs in Czech Republic have jumped on the bandwagon of the microbrewery trend crafting their own spectrum of beers.
We walked the cobblestone streets and squares in Kromeriz that has been designated as the UNESCO World Heritage Center protected for its historical value. Eva showed me the catholic school, where she teaches math. Interestingly enough, each one of us ended up doing something totally different than what we studied, that is construction engineering.
“Since I’ve overseen the construction of our summer house in Velke Losiny, I might go back into engineering,” Eva laughed. “You have to come and write from there. Losiny is a beautiful town with thermal springs close by.”
We also toured the main grounds of the Archbishop Palace where some scenes from the film “Amadeus” and “Immortal Beloved” were shot. The Archbishop’s Palace boasts a unique arts collection including the prized painting by Venetian master Tiziano Vecelli. I remember when we wanted to go and audition for extras in the movie with my grandpa Joseph for 100 Czech crowns a day. Today, I wish we had. As always, I only regret the things I haven’t done.
As a special treat, we walked on top of the Flower Garden colonnade taking in the perfect symmetry of the gardens and the labyrinths below us.
It is said that if a person speaks at one end of the colonnade, the words echo clearly through to the other side.
I picked up a few long coveted deli items at the local Carrefour before we said goodbye, strangely enough at the parking lot by the cemetery since there is no parking along Lesenska Road in Stipa.
We sent butterfly kisses to each other; hardened by our past, discontent in the present, oblivious to the future.
For more information on Kromeriz go to www.mesto-kromeriz.cz. The info center is located at 50/45 Big Square in town. For more information on Czech Republic go to www. czechtourism.com
This is the fourth installment in my travel series from France, Spain and Czech Republic. My trip started on Sept. 3rd in Lansing, USA. I set out to explore and absorb other new cultures, as well as to follow in the footsteps of my past in my homeland Czech Republic. I decided to venture into the past to support the writing and publication of my memoir “Greenwich Meridian where East meets West.”
In the footsteps of the past
I am writing this fourth installment from the attic room of my cousin Brona’s house located across the cemetery in Stipa. It is a gloomy cold day out there, more like November. I can see the street now called Lesenska which leads to the popular zoo Lesna.
As stated in the memoir, we lived in this house when we returned on presidential amnesty back into former Czechoslovakia in 1973. The house belonged to my late grandparents Anezka and Antonin Konecny, both prominent teachers in the community. I come from a big educators’ family. My dad Vaclav Konecny is a retired university professor, and my aunt Martha is a retired math and arts teacher.
Living in Stipa played a pivotal role in my life. I went to grade school here, I met my husband Ludek here, and I got married at the pilgrimage church of Saint Mary.
It was in Moravia that I built everlasting relationships starting in kindergarten Vizovice through university in Brno.
To capture the flavor of all this I wanted to come back. I arrived on a CSD train line called “Velehrad” from Prague on Sept. 19th in the evening at the station in Otrokovice.
I had the entire four-hour train ride to think and map out the events of the past, present and the future. Many people in both countries USA and Czech Republic often ask me what hasn’t changed since the communist regime in Czechoslovakia toppled after Velvet Revolution in 1989.
“You gotta buy a new ticket,” a stout officer woman hollered at me in the seating section of the train known in Czech as kupe as I frantically searched my purse. “I don’t have time to wait until Otrokovice.”
We were about three minutes from my final destination in the Moravian town of Otrokovice. I finally found the ticket after shoving it in my purse because a different train officer already had punched the ticket. The woman angrily turned away upset that I found the ticket, and that she couldn’t charge me again.
Therein lies my answer; people and the entire state train system have not changed. The system is very efficient and on time, but the train cars, the stations and the train people are often not flattering and chaotic. Nothing like the fast trains TGV in France, although a lot cheaper at 275 Czech crowns for a ticket from Prague to Otrokovice.
Hometown Zlin, formerly Gottwaldov, with population of 80,000 is an industrial and a commercial center. I went to secondary school Gymnasium Zlin here, and later I worked here at a local construction firm.
The statues of old communist leaders were torn down after the revolution, and new ones replaced them along with architectural gems such as the glass dome Congress Center.
However, I did recognize old mainstays such as the Big Cinema that was just showing film “Colette,” shopping center Prior and the sports hall. These facilities were all built during communism.
New for me were cheap shops operated by Vietnamese people conveniently located by the bus stations.
Since, the names of most places have changed, the only sure way to meet with people who I haven’t seen in decades was ironically at the train and bus stations.