Miss Czech–Slovak US Endorses Memoir on Czech Resistance

I am proud to announce the recent endorsement of Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance by Meagan Kurmel, Miss Czech–Slovak US 2015-2016.

On Charles Novacek’s memoir, Ms. Kurmel’s endorsement states:

“From beginning to end, I was enthralled with Charles Novacek’s journey. In a country torn by war, his youth vanished quickly as he found himself performing tasks grown men could not do.  Border Crossings is a book about heroism and illustrates the tenacity and strength of the Czech and Slovak character. This is a must read, especially for those yearning  to know more about the brave individuals who helped shape World War II and Cold War history.”

Meagan is a native Nebraskan and currently resides in Omaha, the state’s largest city. Like Charles her ancestors were of both Czech and Slovak heritage and she studied to be an engineer. Meagan graduated from the University of Nebraska in 2014, with a Bachelor’s degree in Architectural Engineering and in 2015 received a Master’s in Architectural Engineering with an emphasis in Mechanical Design. She is also a dance teacher, an avid outdoorswoman and enjoys hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking.

During the Miss Czech-Slovak US competition, Meagan performed a ballet polka for her talent. She also wore her grandmother’s kroj (Czech/Slovak folk costume) dating back to the early 20th century from the Piestany region of Slovakia. Meagan’s great-grandfather emigrated from this region in the early 1900s. The Piestany region is known for highly skilled silversmiths. Their craftsmanship is reflected in the silver embellishments seen throughout the kroj.

When competing for Miss Czech-Slovak US, Meagan was asked why she wanted to be crowned, what it means to her and her family, and what goals she would like to accomplish during this year.

She said she wanted to be able to promote and preserve her heritage on the national level and feels deeply honored to be chosen as Miss Czech-Slovak US 2015 – 2016.

“I am very proud to be of Czech-Slovak descent,” Meagan stated. “My family is comprised of individuals who work hard, choose to always do the right thing, and improve their surroundings to create a better place for future generations. I can connect that my love and respect of nature and hard work come from my ancestors and I am honored to be able to carry that on. In this experience, I look forward to meeting all of the interesting individuals and groups. I hope to hear their stories and carry on our traditions.”

9780985415105-JacketGray_novacek.inddI know Charles would be very pleased that Miss Czech-Slovak US not only read his book, but that she has endorsed it; that they share the occupation of engineer,  the love and respect of nature, hard work and the desire to make the world a better place for future generations!

Novacek, Charles. Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance. Ten21 Press, 2012. Available in hardcover, paper, and digital formats.

 

 

 

Beloved Puppets: From Innocence to Resistance

“And when the Nazis occupied Prague during World War II, the puppet theatre helped to keep the spirit of resistance alive.”

Yesterday I volunteered as an usher for a film showing in the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Danto Lecture Hall. I took tickets, passed out programs and when the film was showing I sat at a table in the in the hallway answering questions and assisting with late arrivals.

rodpuppetcrI was disappointed I couldn’t see the film, but happy that my table was opposite the rotating exhibit of the DIA Paul McPharlin Puppetry Collection – over 800 puppets gifted from the family of the puppeteer and puppet collector Paul McPharlin. McPharlin collected puppets from all over the world and some from nearly 250 years ago. Dozens of children walked by my table and gazed at the marionettes. To hold their attention I tapped the digital touch screen show of dancing puppets from shadow to rod.

Because the DIA’s puppets are made from light sensitive materials, they can only be displayed six months at a time. The current DIA exhibit is of rod puppets used to tell the Nativity story and the play “Death of Tintagiles.” Six months ago I was delighted to see a different special exhibit called “VIPs (Very Important Puppets) from the Paul McPharlin Puppetry Collection.”

Creative Commons, Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob Smith

Creative Commons, Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob Smith

The star of the exhibit was the original Howdy Doody marionette. When I was growing up there were few television celebrities more beloved by children than Howdy Doody. He was a red-haired, carefree and innocent, freckle-faced, “all American” boy marionette with a perpetual smile, and 48 freckles, one for each state of the union as on the American flag at the time. On January 3, 1959 Alaska was admitted and there were 49. Hawaii made it 50 when it was granted statehood seven months later.

I was a devoted fan and like many others considered Howdy and Buffalo Bob Smith, his sidekick, voice, and real person, my friends. I’ve never forgotten Howdy so I was thrilled when the Detroit Institute of Arts acquired and displayed the original Howdy Doody marionette dressed in his original red cowboy boots, buckskin gloves and wide smile.

Shortly, after my reunion with Howdy late last fall in Detroit, I visited the Czech Republic. There, I was reminded of the 300+ year old Czechoslovak tradition of puppetry. The people in Prague last November were definitely passionate about their puppets with puppet shows and puppet shops on nearly every block and a puppet museum, too. Somewhere I read that puppets may outnumber people in Prague!

Creative Commons, Spejbl and Hurvinek

Creative Commons, Spejbl and Hurvinek

They specialize in beautifully hand carved wooden puppets of many characters – devils, witches, princesses, kings, queens and even American icons like Superman, Michael Jackson, and Elvis.  But, perhaps, their most beloved marionette puppet characters of the past are a comical father named Spejbl created in 1919 and his rascal son Hurvinek created in 1926 by puppeteer Josef Skupa.

While working on promoting my late husband’s book, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, I discovered not all puppeteers and their puppets have lived carefree, innocent lives. When the Czech language was banned by the Austrian Hungarian empire in the nineteenth century puppeteers continued to perform in Czech as an act of defiance. And Czech puppeteers like Skupa have a tradition of radical puppetry.

When the Nazis occupied Prague during World War II, the puppet theatre helped to keep the spirit of resistance alive. The Czechs organized illegal underground performances in homes and basements with anti-fascist themes. Radical puppet shows were also performed in public. The Nazis were slow to recognize the work of the puppet theater as a center of national resistance because it was mere entertainment for children and in a foreign language. Just how subversive could a block of wood on a piece of string get?

But puppeteers like Josef Skupa and his leading character Spejbl, did wartime tours of adult puppet plays with subtle symbolic points unnoticeable to the Nazi censors. One of the best real-life stories of puppets during World War II is related to Spejbl and Hurvínek. Skupa AND the puppets were arrested* in 1944 for anti-fascist resistance activities and jailed by the Nazis after the Gestapo realized Spejbl and Hurvínek shows were underhandedly mocking Adolf Hitler and the Germans! Eventually the Nazi’s curbed all Czech puppetry and over 100 puppeteers died under torture in the concentration camps.

Last Saturday as I sat at the table across from the puppet exhibit at the DIA, a man looking at the puppets, turned to me saying, “My wife and I just returned from Prague on a tour. We visited the National Marionette Theatre and saw an entertaining puppet show.”

He hadn’t had heard the story of Joseph Skupa and his subversive puppets during the Nazi occupation of World War II. He was amazed to learn how Czech puppeteers fought for freedom in the resistance and sacrificed their lives sharing messages and airing their views through a seemingly harmless art form thought by the Nazis to only be for children.

 

* Josef Skupa escaped from a Dresden prison during an allied bombing in February of 1945. After his escape and after the war Skupa opened the Spejbl & Hurvínek Theater in 1945 in Prague 6 from where it has remained until today.

An Inspiring Graphic Designer for Husband’s Memoir Book Cover

Hooray! In honor of International Women’s Day, the Casual Optimist has named Kimberly Glyder, one of fifty-two inspiring women graphic designers.

bckimberlyglyder

Kimberly is the cover designer for my late husband Charles Novacek’s award-winning memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, Ten21 Press, 2012.

9780985415105-JacketGray_novacek.indd

She is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and currently principal at Kimberly Glyder Design, her design firm based in the Philadelphia area.

Kimberly and her book covers “inspired” me and that’s why I selected her to design Charles’ independently published book.

Next to having skilled editing of the manuscript, I knew that choosing the book cover designer was possibly the most important decision I would make as an independent publisher. The cover would be the visual interpretation of Charles’ thousands of carefully chosen words.

Potential readers, reviewers, and booksellers glance at a book for just a few seconds before making their selection. I wanted to make sure they selected Border Crossings!

I didn’t have unlimited funds to spend, but I felt sure a professional graphic designer was worth saving for. I started my search with a list of specifications.  It was very important to me that the person be a reader and lover of books. Designing covers just couldn’t be a “job.”

Other specs on the list included:

  • Proven track record as book designer
  • Sensibility for marketing
  • Eye catching covers
  • Covers make a statement
  • Effective use of typography
  • Effective use of color
  • Professionally designed website
  • Willing/able to incorporate vintage Novacek family photo(s)
  • Willing/able to design cover for hardcover, paperback, and digital books
  • Willing to freelance for independent publisher
  • Met my needed turn-around time

I started my search by locating designers of book covers I liked in Border Crossings’ genre and subject matter.

Then, I did an online search for book designers from my local area and long distance. I consulted design related websites, too.  Though I liked the idea of working with someone in my community I felt working with a designer long distance would work through emails and phone calls.

From my research I created a list of potential designers and contacted them.

Ultimately, Kimberly was my choice. Kimberly met my specifications and I read interviews of her online where I learned she met the very important requirement of loving books and reading. She said:

“My mom is an artist and my dad has always been an avid reader, so from an early age I loved both art and books.”

“I was always a voracious reader, so being able to combine books and design is an ideal fit.”

“I loved making books as a kid.”

The Border Crossings cover has been recognized for excellence as a Finalist, Best Cover in the 2012 Midwest Independent Publishing Association Awards and by The Book Designer for an eBook Cover Design Award in November, 2012. The Book Designer commented, “This cover is a terrific example of how to put together historical images to make a cohesive whole. In the hands of a talented designer, all the elements have been carefully employed to tell a story without taking away from the impact of the design. A real winner!”

I love the cover, too. . . especially the way Charles’ stares mysteriously at the reader over the title of the book!

9780985415105-JacketGray_novacek.indd

 

A Prayer for Peace & Love to Win

Charles Novacek, age 3 stands next to his father's bee apiary.  Ožďany, Czechoslovakia, 1938.

Charles Novacek, age 3 stands next to his father’s bee apiary. Ožďany, Czechoslovakia, 1931. Photo Source: Novacek, Charles. Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, Ten21 Press, 2012.

Most events where I speak about Border Crossings don’t close with a prayer, but last night’s did. I was moved by the words. . .  tenderly spoken:

“Thank you, God for bringing love together in telling the story of a life well-lived, of experiences shared,  and the growth that came as Sandy has told us of her husband Charles Novacek’s life. . . from the son of a beekeeper to 1938, when his life was forever changed. As we have heard the story, we pray for peace around the world, always searching for LOVE to win!”

Thank you, kind members of the Merry Mates, fellowship group at the First United Methodist Church in Birmingham, MI for your hospitality and your kindness!

Memorial Haunts Me in Prague

I walked from my hotel in Prague to the “Memorial to the Victims of Communism.” The haunting monument was created in 2002 by sculptor Olbram Zoubek and architects Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Hölzel to commemorate the victims of the communist era between 1948 and 1989.

communismmemorial1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In viewing and interacting with the work I began to understand how Charles’ family and Czechoslovakian people suffered physically and spiritually under the rule of communism in their homeland. It was painful, disturbing, and humiliating.

The memorial stands amidst a small forest at the bottom of Petřín hill on Újezd Street in the Malá Strana.  A line of seven figures* in varying stages of decay ascend the stairs, representing the different phases of destruction of those living under the totalitarian regime.  The stairs are constructed in a way that makes it increasingly difficult to climb them. I walked them. . . I know this is true.

The decaying process of the figure worsens as the stairs reach the top of the hill. The figure diminishes. It crumbles and loses its limbs . . . reflecting how both the mind and body suffered under communist rule. It disappears as the Czech society lost the freedom of thought and expression while under the watch of the secret police and censorship.

A bronze ribbon runs along the ground in front of the memorial engraved with the numbers of people whose lives were negatively affected by communism:

205,486 arrested
170,938 forced into exile
4,500 died in prison
327 shot trying to escape
248 executed

communismmemorialplaquecrA plaque installed beside the monument reads: “The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims – not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism.”

But many tourists don’t see this. They walk by unaware of the meaning of the monument and merely take pictures of the figures.

Prague, November 28, 2015

 

*Would have preferred to also have female figures included

Obituaries, Death Notices, and the “Art” of Medicine

DrJosephJWeiss“Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.” — Hippocrates

For me, reading obituaries and death notices is a habit I’ve had my whole adult life. It helps me keep track of history – mine and others. It’s also a source of interesting stories about people, information of celebrities and the not so well-known. Through an old New York Times obituary, it fascinated me to discover Russian author Vladimir Nabokov was “a distinguished and passionate lepidopterologist. As a butterfly expert, Mr. Nabokov discovered several species and subspecies.”  A lesser known obituary told the story of Eileen Nearne (1921-2010), one of 39 British women who were parachuted into France as secret agents by the Special Operations Executive, the wartime agency known as “Churchill’s secret army during World War II.”

More and more, The Detroit Free Press is including photographs of the deceased with its obituaries and death notices. Two weeks ago while gazing the Sunday notices I eyed a familiar face. I realized I remembered the face not because I knew the person well or even met him. No, it was because I recognized him from a photograph of a portrait I had seen many times in my late husband Charles’ art portfolio.

DrJosephJWeissobitrevDr. Joseph J. Weiss, M.D. MACP (1934-2015) was Charles’ rheumatologist. Dr. “Veiss” (in Charles’ voice) treated him for osteoarthritis. Charles’ gnarled fingers, aching joints and immense pain was a lasting memory of the torture he received through Czech resistance work during his Cold War arrest and imprisonment by the Russians. Charles told me it was his resistance work training that taught him how to endure pain. Physicians like Dr. Weiss helped him to “live” with it.

Charles sought out doctors who cultivated wide knowledge of the people and the world – who followed the advice of Hippocrates to pay attention to the patient, not just the disease, and to render treatments that would first do no harm. He formed lasting relationships with his doctors like Dr. Joseph J. Weiss and considered them friends. Charles even drew and painted portraits of all of his regular physicians including Dr. Weiss.

Three years ago I celebrated the posthumous publication of Charles’ memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance at a launch party in Midtown Detroit’s Park Shelton. The place was packed with the crowd spilling out the door onto the sidewalk. As I sat at a table signing books, surrounded by well-wishers, I looked up and recognized a man from a photograph of a portrait I saw in Charles’ art portfolio. It had to be Dr. Weiss! In all of the chaos, he never made it over to me, but I saw him buy a copy of Charles’ book. How sweet, I thought.

Two weeks ago, as I read Dr. Weiss’s death notice I learned even more about this kind man who “was committed to relieving his patient’s distress. He was a graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School and “interrupted his training to serve in the U.S. Public Health Service which took him to many rural regions of the United States. Dr. Weiss then joined Care Medico to provide medical services in pre-Soviet Afghanistan for two years and then went to what was then South Vietnam to care for civilian casualties.” And what’s more he served my husband well!

My habit of reading obituaries and death notices like Dr. Weiss’s will not soon be broken. The fascinating details I gather help me to truly connect with people and history in ways I never thought possible.

A Painting, a List and a Road Trip

carnationlilylilyrose

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent, 1885-86, 68.5″ x 60.5″

Some days I sit down with my eyes closed and dream of times long ago.  I think of Charles and what we were doing on a particular day or time. . .

August 1997.

I had never heard the term “bucket list” in 1997.  Maybe it didn’t exist then.  But the concept did.  It must come from the phrase “to kick the bucket” meaning to die. . . A list of things one must do before one kicks the bucket.

In my head I had a list of “must-dos before I die.” One of them was a “must-see” painting by American painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) – the magical Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1885-86).  I remember first seeing the colorful image of nature and childhood innocence projected on a screen in a college art history class:

Two young girls lighting Chinese paper lanterns in a haunting pink and lavender flowered twilight.

I dreamed of being one of the girls.

When I discovered the painting was coming to the United States from the Tate in London in the summer of 1997, I had to find a way to go – it was on my list!

I had to convince Charles we should make the nine hour and thirty-nine minute drive to see it.  I knew I could.

The painting was in the exhibition Uncanny Spectacle: The Public Career of the Young John Singer Sargent at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (The Clark) in Williamstown, Massachusetts – the pastoral New England town with leafy trees and luscious lawns in the midst of the magnificent Berkshire Mountains.

Thirty-five Sargent paintings were in the exhibition including the notorious portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau – Madame X.

Road trip. Mountains.Museum. Madame X. Charles was convinced.

We made it to Williamstown in record time and after a full night’s rest we drove to The Clark museum.

I felt like I was stepping into the pages of a fairy tale as I walked into the exhibition and the painting’s warm glow.

Memories: Of Libraries, Books and Ice Cream

icecreamspoononbookEvery day something jogs my memory of Charles and I’ll wonder what he’d think of this or that. Yesterday it was libraries (books) and ice cream. We shared the love of those two important staples of life and couldn’t get enough of them!

We first met face to face in a library and of course, library research was vital to the writing and publishing of Charles’ memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance.  

When many questioned our move into Detroit’s Cass Corridor almost 16 years ago we snapped back, “It’s within walking distance of the main branch of the Detroit Public Library!” And today if Charles was living he’d be delighted to know that even closer is Source Booksellers, a neighborhood indie book store that stocks a carefully selected collection of books including his story.

Charles mentions the importance of the two staples (his school and home library and a local ice cream shop) as part of his idyllic pre-world War II childhood in what is now Slovakia.

On Libraries/Books:

“My reading skills increased, and by the end of third grade—June 1936—I had read all of the books in the little school library. Then I started reading my father’s books, which required greater literacy; I had to read them twice to understand them better. I was incredibly impressed with a history of Bohemia, which had its beginnings in the year 400 A.D., and learned of how its culture and Christianity had come from the Mediterranean.”

On Ice Cream:

banska-bystrica1cr“When Mother traveled to Bañská Bystrica, a nice little town, I enjoyed accompanying her.  She would take me to an ice cream shop and buy a ‘crémeš’ – a cream pie with ice cream.”  Over 60 years later Charles looked for that shop when we visited Bañská Bystrica.

In the course of writing Border Crossings many scoops were eaten to celebrate the completion of a chapter or even a paragraph! And sometimes scoops were eaten when the writing got tough! We often lamented the absence of an ice cream shop in the neighborhood. Though it certainly helped to keep our weight down.

So what happened yesterday that made me think of Charles, libraries (books) and ice cream?

Yesterday at the Grosse Pointe Public Library branch where I work, one of our librarians had the vision to combine those two important staples of life – LIBRARIES and ICE CREAM. She invited an ice cream truck to serve free delicious treats to our patrons at the LIBRARY.

treatdreamscr2And if Charles was still living he’d be delighted to know where that ice cream truck come from? From Treat Dreams! The wonderful new ice cream store with a branch in OUR neighborhood. A store that stocks “lovingly created” innovative ice creams with the motto: “Peace. Love. Ice Cream. Treat Dreams!”

Perhaps, they’ll decide to do what I’ve read another ice cream maker considered – Create LIBRARY FLAVORS! How about Li-berry pie and Sh-sh-sh-sherbet? Or would you prefer Malt Whitman or Gooey Decimal System?

Any other suggestions?

Remembering a Heroic Father

In 1935, shortly before Father was transferred to Hrachovo, near Rimavská Sobota, close to the Hungarian border, he caught a large fish, a hlavatka, in the Hron River. It was a large catfish weighing over 9 kilograms. It created much excitement in the community. People didn’t know that such large fish existed in the River Hron. Father was photographed with it, and I was with him when he cleaned it and cut into many pieces. All fathers’ friends wanted to taste it.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”  

                                         — Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love, 1973

My late husband Charles Novacek loved his father Antonin Novacek and loved writing about him, too. On Father’s Day 2013 I posted “About My Father – Antonin Novacek 1896-1971″ on this blog, an essay Charles penned for a writing class.

This Father’s Day I’m posting a slightly edited document I found in old computer files — notes Charles wrote about his father while writing Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance. Some of this information made it into the book, some didn’t.

As described by Charles, Antonin Novacek appears to truly be the “competent man” exemplified in literature. He could do anything perfectly or at least demonstrated a vast range of abilities and knowledge that made him a sort of “Polymath”. . . a Superman. . . a Hero.

I never met Charles’ father. Some people might think he sounded “too good to be true.” But if you knew Charles you know his father was that good and that true!

MY FATHER: Notes from Charles Novacek

bcantoninww1cr

World War I, 1916 – Antonin Novacek is seated in the front row, second from holding his violin

My father Antonin Novacek was a police officer.  He had substantial training in World War I, in the Czechoslovakian Legion in Russia as a POW, and the Police Academy in the new Czechoslovakia when he returned home in 1918.  Father had the strongest influence on me.  He was a nature loving horseman, he liked fishing and hunting.  He only killed animals on the overpopulation list.

He was a master carpenter.  He made beautiful, exotic furniture, musical instruments like violins, cellos, and occasionally enjoyed working on house construction.  He made shoes and gloves for all in the family, improvised clothing and coats not available to buy. He was a self-educated engineer who could produce anything he put his mind to.

At home he was a loving Father, husband, excellent cook. He learned about exotic foods from the Gypsies and learned baking by experimentation.  During war and the times when many things we’re not available Father could concoct anything.  When he was cooking he made me observe. He used to say that a good man must know how to prepare food and help his woman keep up the house.

From potato and fruit peels he fermented mash and distilled it in a device he made to produce moonshine Moravian style, ‘palinka’.  He explained that alcohol made like that wasn’t pure enough, so he had to run it through the still several times to reduce the methyl alcohol that could damage one’s eyes.

He encouraged me to read and supported my efforts to draw paint and carve with his knife.  Father would carve an animal from a piece of pine, let me observe how Imade certain cuts, showed me how to sharpen knives on a flat stone and how to make chisels from steel bars.  In the winter during the freezing night he would make a large piece of ice in the backyard by spraying a pile of snow with water and let me carve whatever I wanted.  He personally supervised my violin classes and singing.

In prison I remembered Father very much, I would ask, “What would Father do in this or that case, how would he handle the prison conditions?”

On outings in the wilderness he let me kill a hare or a rabbit, or in the river taught me how to fish.  Cleaning and preparing meat to cook was a special chore.  Father stressed many times how to wash it when there was plenty of water.  When he killed a rabbit and there was no water to wash it, Father showed me how to separate the portions of meat from the body of the animal, apply the cooking condiments, and roast the portion that was not contaminated.

He explained what to do when I injured myself and how to attend such an injury, or how to treat the horse when mounting or dismounting.  When the hunted animal wasn’t killed, Father made me kill it at once so it wouldn’t suffer.

Father made me very attentive to my Mother.  I always had to treat her with care and respect.  Discipline at home and in school was a priority.  I was made to obey Mother, my teachers and older people implicitly.  When I was facing elders (especially ladies) I had to be attentive.

When greeted I had to wait until a hand was reached out for me to shake.  I was not allowed to extend my hand first.  I had to follow the established rules without questions. I was not allowed to change any rules until much later.  I also went through a rigorous process to learn to tell the truth.  Father was straight and fair with everyone.  His son was not allowed to lie.  Later I was given the alternative to keep my mouth shut when I felt wronged.

Grand Monuments Honor Beloved Wives in India & Slovakia

tajmahal1

Source: David Waumsley

Source: www.hiking.sk

I never forget a good love story. So when I read that on today’s date in 1631 Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Banu Begum) died in Agra, India, I recalled the story of Františka Hablavcová’s death in Slovakia in 1902 and here is why.

mumtazmahal1

CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons, by Heather Cowper

Mumtaz Mahal (1593–1631) died on June 17, 1631 shortly after giving birth to her fourteenth child. She was the favorite wife of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666) of India. It is said “the intimacy, deep affection, attention and favor which the emperor had for Mumtaz exceeded by a thousand times what he felt for any other.”

Mumtaz was Shah Jahan’s trusted companion and confidant. His trust in her was so great that he even gave her his imperial seal. Despite her frequent pregnancies, Mumtaz travelled with Shah Jahan’s entourage throughout the Mughal Empire until her death.

The emperor was so grieved at the loss of his beloved wife that the following year he began work on the mausoleum in Agra that would house her body. The result was the world-famous Taj Mahal made of red sandstone and white marble. It took 20,000 workers 22 years to complete the precious architectural monument symbolizing eternal love. Named one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it’s considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Islamic, Indian and Persian architectural styles.

Most people have heard of the Taj Mahal, but few know of the mausoleum of Františka and Dionýz Andrassy near the village of Krasnohorske Podhradie in eastern Slovakia within view of the Krásna Hôrka castle. It’s been called the “Slovak Taj Mahal” and is only one hour northeast of my late husband Charles’ birthplace in Ozdany, Slovakia (once Austro-Hungary). What these mausoleums have in common is that they both were built by husbands as memorials to their cherished wives.

frantiskaandrassy1

Source: www.bobinsvet.eu

Small and beautiful, the Andrassy monument was built in 1904 in Art Nouveau style by Dionýz Andrassy (1835-1913), the descendant of one of the oldest and most powerful Hungarian families. He broke nobility tradition when he married the Viennese commoner and opera singer, Františka Hablavcová (1838-1902). They married in Pisa, Italy on April 4, 1866. Dionýz’s  father disinherited his son, but this changed later before his death. The harmonious marriage lasted for 36 years and after the death of his beloved wife, Dionýz built a magnificent mausoleum in her memory.

The mausoleum was completed in one year. It combines the elements of modern secession and classical features. Made of white sandstone, it creates an impression of an octagon. In front of the entrance, there is the word pax (peace) engraved on the floor with angel statues lining the sides. There are lion knockers on the bronze door, and a coat-of-arms relief with eagles and Dionýz’s motto “Non videri sed esse (Not to seem but to be)” above them.

The interior includes golden mosaics and colorful marble from all over the world. Agate-covered and marble sarcophagi are decorated with coats of arms, plants, animals, angels and portraits of Františka and Dionýz who was buried with his wife  in 1914. The altar of Saint Frances of Rome includes a mosaic picture of the saint imported from Florence and elegant works of bronze and gold. This stunning mausoleum is unmatched in Central Europe.

I visited the Andrassy mausoleum with Charles. We felt the love and the beauty. Charles particularly enjoyed the statues in the surrounding park!

One day I hope to travel to India to witness the monument of the Taj Mahal love story.