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
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.
The Václav Havel Library in Prague follows the US presidential library model in gathering and archiving materials relating to the late Czech dissident turned head of state. In the US, Havel’s legacy is promoted by sister organisation the Václav Havel Library Foundation, which is based at the Bohemian National Hall in New York. The latter is headed by Pavla Niklová, a former director of the city’s Czech Center. When we met, Niklová explained the relationship between the foundation and the library itself.
Dr. Paul Ort’s mother and grandfather were murdered by the Nazis in reprisals that followed the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. A childhood friend of Vaclav Havel’s, the then Pavel Ort escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia via Tunisia after securing a medical degree against the odds. He went on to have a very successful career in the US, where he is still practising at the age of 82.
US-based Czech photographer Marie Tomanová is known for her striking portrait work and often nude images of her own body interacting with nature. Right now Tomanová’s career is on the up and up. She made a splash in New York with a solo show this year, has her first monograph coming out soon and is also set to be the subject of a documentary. When we met, I asked the Moravian-born artist what had led her to the US almost eight years ago.