An event at the Strahov Monastery took place on Tuesday to celebrate the statue of the Virgin Mary in Exile, which was placed in its garden exactly 25 years ago. The statue, which previously stood in the Czech Benedictine College in Lisle, near Chicago, was commissioned by Czechoslovak expats in the US in the 1950s and became a symbolical connection to their homeland.
A century ago the Czech community in New York was centred around the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Indeed, an estimated 40,000 Czechs lived in the area known as Yorkville. Ed Chlanda’s family were members of that community and the 80-year-old kindly gave me a tour of the neighbourhood, taking in a former Czech bank, the street where he grew up, the Jan Hus church and the Bohemian National Hall. But we started at the New York Sokol on East 71st St., where Chlanda is an active member. Surrounded by photos, medals and other memorabilia in the Sokol
Robert Tomanek is currently in Prague researching a book about Czech immigrants to America and the Sokol gymnastics movement, of which he has been a member almost all his life. The Iowa-based scientist, who grew up speaking Czech, is also a member of the board of the Sokol Museum and Library in the US – an institution that he and his colleagues are now working hard to create. When Tomanek visited our studio we discussed all things Sokol, past and present. But we began with his own background.
Joseph Balaz is president of the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, which brings together the leading Czech organisations in New York. But Balaz’s main activity is running a successful construction firm that brings him into contact with global celebrities and the cream of Manhattan society. Not bad for a student from Prague’s Žižkov who escaped from communist Czechoslovakia with little more than the clothes on his back. The man born Josef Baláž spoke to me at the splendid Bohemian National Hall, the completion of whose renovation he personally
At a hundred Věra Hykšová is brimming with energy. She is also more than a little glamorous. I went to see her just after Christmas at her flat in the leafy London suburb of Richmond. Her daughter Veronika and granddaughter Natasha had contacted me to say that her birthday was coming up and they wanted to do something special to celebrate it. This is no ordinary family. Over seventy years have gone by since Věra left Czechoslovakia. Veronika and Natasha were both born in London, and yet the family remains proudly Czech. In this documentary Věra
Ondřej Pivec plays organ with one of the biggest stars in world jazz, singer Gregory Porter. This makes Pivec, who is in his mid-30s, perhaps the most successful non-classical Czech musician of his generation. When we met at a café in his Brooklyn neighbourhood, the conversation took in his struggles to establish himself in New York, the specific nature of performing in churches and his live baptism of fire with Porter. But first Ondřej Pivec explained how a stay of several months in the Big Apple 10 years ago turned into a long-term move that tranformed
In 2017 director Marie Dvořáková followed the likes of Spike Lee, Robert Zemeckis and her compatriot Jan Svěrák in winning the Student Academy Award for her film Who’s Who in Mycology. When we spoke in New York, the filmmaker told me the short had a long gestation – and that she was currently working on not one but three new projects. But I first asked Marie Dvořáková what had drawn her to film in the first place.
Though forced to live in exile for most of his life, the world-renowned pianist Rudolf Firkušný maintained strong Czech traditions at his home in the United States. Indeed, his daughter Véronique Firkusny’s mother tongue was Czech and today she translates leading authors from her parents’ homeland and helps opera singers get to grips with Czech-language works. When we spoke in New York, I first asked Véronique Firkusny how her father had viewed the situation in his native country following the Communist takeover of 1948.
Visit Czech Republic posts wonderful photos on social media aimed at lovers of the country and potential first-time travellers to this part of the world. In North America, Visit@CZ – which is run by state agency CzechTourism – is represented by digital and social marketer Jiří Dužár. When we chatted in New York, topics included the images of the Czech Republic that do best on social media, the importance of travel bloggers, Dužár’s own work as a photographer and a lot more.