Tag Archives: travels

my year in music

**Disclaimer: This is not a list of my favorite albums that came out in 2010. In fact, many of these albums did not come out in 2010. They did, however, enter my music library and my world this year. This was a year of old jobs, new jobs, old graduate programs, new homes; good decisions that turned out to be good decisions, good decisions that turned out to be bad decisions; more stability in some areas and more up-in-the-air-ness in others. These are the most listened to and most memory/nostalgia-inducing albums of my 2010, in no particular order.

Passion Pit, Manners
This year’s record of absurdly catchy electropop hooks has cemented its place as great road-trip-to-the-Cabin and pump-things-up-after-dinner music. Stupid, stupid, stupid catchy. Also love backup vocals from PS 22.

The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
This one came out in 2010! I’m so hip and with it! This album doesn’t have the epic choruses that originally got me hooked on The Arcade Fire, but the more I listen to it, the more solid I realize it is.

The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart
Hey, this album came out in 2010 too! I have a lot to say about this album. It began when I went to visit an old lovey in Seattle this summer for a long weekend. It was a trip full of transit, fun, and girl-power adventure, but the highlight was the record-release show for The Head and the Heart at Conor Byrne in Ballard. I was floored by the three-part vocal harmonies, catchy melodies, and all-around stellar songwriting. Lyrics like “My roots are grown, but I don’t know where they are” just speak. Since that night in Ballard, I have sung along to every song on this album at the top of my lungs at least a dozen times. I haven’t liked a band as much as I like this band in a long, long time.
This album is also associated with a really strong, independent, assertive time in my year. The Seattle trip and finding this band was something I did on my own, just for me; I needed that time, and I realized I needed it, and I took it, and I was better for me and everyone else after it. When I think about it, so much of my music collection is linked to one dude or another, whether he introduced me to them or we saw them live together or we made out while listening to them or whatever. (What can I say, over the past few years I have exclusively dated dudes with excellent taste in music. It’s not what you’re like, it’s what you like, right?) But this is one of the few bands I feel like I found on my own and recognized the value of on my own. They are a damn good find, and if these new songs are any indication, their sophomore album is going to be even better: “Been talking ’bout the way things change / my family lives in a different state / and if you don’t know what to make of it / then we will not relate.” Tell me.

Freelance Whales, Weathervanes
Steph introduced me to this album shortly after we moved into our new house. I will always associate it with our first experimentations with the KitchenAid. Pretty, catchy, cheesy at times, a bit of a guilty pleasure, oh-so-very indie.

The xx, Xx
The xx opened for Hot Chip when John and I saw them at the Fox this year. I love how simple the instrumentation and vocals are, and I love Romy’s sexy voice. Great example of less being more.

Geographer, Animal Shapes
This is a legitimate 2010 album! I had heard of Geographer but never really got hooked until I heard “Kites.” Then it turned out there were weird connections with them, like my friend from school being roommates with the singer/songwriter. It’s a small city. These songs all make me bop and invent harmony parts, signs of good stuff.

Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
This is another 2010 (in the US) album! I listened to these guys almost exclusively during my last few months at 41 Octavia. Foot-stomping goodness.

Feist, The Reminder
I know I’m really behind the times on this one, but belting out “What made you think this boy could become / the man who would make you sure he was the oooooooooooooooone, my oooooooooooone?” got me through quite a few nights this year.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, Up from Below
Tableau: The scene shop at West Valley College, safety goggles on, router in hand, crew from The Easily Distracted Theatre alongside, finishing the set for Foresight, Up from Below playing on the stereo. And the longer I’m away from my given home, and the more I wonder what “home” means, the more I realize it is wherever I’m with you. Hippies.

Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz
I’m only good to listen to this in its entirety about once every two weeks, but it’s complex and ugly and pretty and bizarre. My favorite elements are the metallic-chains effect in “Age of Adz” that sounds like Sonic when you rev him up and, of course, the use of Auto-Tune in “Impossible Soul.”

BONUS: Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas
I only bought this box set this year, but I’ve been listening to it non-stop while baking and decorating and traveling and such. The arrangements of classic hymns inspire me for my own experiments in playing Jesus music, and some of the originals (“That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” and “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas? (Well, You Deserved It!)”, in particular), are legitimately great songs, Christmas or not. Also “The Friendly Beasts” is my second favorite Christmas song ever (second to David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth”), so bonus points for a great version of that.

Happy 2011!!


my heritage; or, a brief history of hillsville, pa; or, the charms of western pennsylvania

Tonight I went to my dad’s hometown: Hillsville, Pennsylvania. (It’s so backcountry, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.) It’s just across the Ohio/Pennsylvania border — one of the places you can stand with one foot in Ohio and the other in Pennsylvania. The two bars we went to, Nite Trax and The Finish Line (formerly known as Chief’s), both had one half decorated in Steelers gear and the other half decorated in Browns gear. (But everyone wearing sports gear was repping the Steelers, duh.)

Nite Trax is so named because it’s right across from the railroad tracks that used to take the limestone mined in the quarries there at Carbon Limestone to wherever it needed to go in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and beyond. When my great-great-grandfather, Nikoli Zahaczewski (aka Nikolai Zohoševsky), moved to the United States in 1907 from Galicia, he worked at Carbon Limestone. Then, his son, my great-grandfather, John Dunchak, worked at Carbon Limestone. And my grandfather, Johnny Dunchak, worked at Carbon Limestone his whole life, too.

Somehow, miraculously, mysteriously, and somewhat sadly, my dad escaped having a Pittsburgh accent. Everyone we talked to tonight, including a few high-school friends of my dad’s, all had the accent to varying degrees. Since he grew up there too, he really should have one!! A few choice OHs:

  • “People kep’ thinkin’ I was Messkin ’cause I got dark skin, so I made sure I said ‘yinz’ a lot so dey knew I wasn’.” – patron at Nite Trax
  • “I couldn’ find ma Stillers lighter, and I go, ‘War’d I put it?’ An’ den I fahn it in my purse! Hah!” – bartender at Nite Trax

I always thought the town my dad grew up in was mostly Hunky, but I learned tonight that I was wrong — it’s overwhelmingly Italian. Eye-talian. Roman Catholic Italian. With lots of bathtub Madonnas (and my dad said he and his brother used to call them that). Nite Trax has homemade Italian food every Tuesday — the owner Gino’s mom comes in once a week and makes cavatelli, ravioli, meatballs, and her special spaghetti sauce. I got the cavatelli, and it was the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten, hands down. After dinner, we went on a little driving tour of the area and went through the cemetery — there was pretty much one Hunky name among the hundred-some Italian ones. (Though the family history goes that my great-great-grandfather Nikolai is buried in this cemetery, too, but no headstone remains.)

And more on the loophole in the PA smoking ban — you’re allowed to smoke in Nite Trax, in Pennsylvania, but not in Chief’s, a few miles down the road across the Ohio border. (Incidentally, Chief’s is a bar my mom and dad used to hang out at a lot when they were dating. Aww!) As the bartender at Chief’s explained, if you’re an eating-and-drinking establishment in Pennsylvania and more than 80% of your sales come from liquor, smoking is still allowed. This has been a death-sentence for Ohio bars, she said, especially ones in borderlands. (Indeed, we were the only people in Chief’s, wheras Nite Trax was packed.) A direct quote from her: “Smokin’ an’ drinkin’ — it’s the American way. It’s like peanut-butter and jelly.”

"smoking permitted" sign on the door of nite trax in hillsville, pa

"smoking permitted" sign on the door of nite trax in hillsville, pa

Whew. It has been a whirlwind week+ here in the Mahoning Valley. I’ve reminisced, reconnected with my past, gotten pretty nostalgic, and learned things I never knew. It has been a good trip. I like my roots.


Moments of desperation. The first time I ever remember having them, and characterizing them as such, was in Prague. I felt very isolated while I was there, far from my support network and the people I loved. I also had a lot of free time. Despite being in a beautiful, culturally rich city, there was only so much I could do — I was there long enough to “outgrow” the touristy stuff but not long enough to establish a real, authentic life. Classes were interesting and even challenging, but neither they nor their related work required a large time commitment. Thus, I had to find ways to pass the time, and I would often find myself looking at the clock, taking stock of my activity options, and having these mini-panic-attack moments of desperation about how I was going to survive. I think the reason, at the bottom of it, was that I was afraid of being alone, of having to pass the time by myself.

It’s silly, really, and I know it. I always managed to fill the time, and I usually ended up doing something fun and worthwhile, whether it was hanging out with a friend or reading a book or taking a walk through the cobblestoned streets. I surely didn’t spend my time in Prague sitting around moping. But no matter how often I successfully filled the moments, no matter how many times I didn’t die of loneliness, I still had that clenching in my chest, that tightness in my throat, that stinging in the corners of my eyes the next time I was faced with an empty block of time and no obvious plan for it.

I started having them again about six months ago. It’s easy to see why — I felt alone, emotionally, for the first time in four years, and I was alone, physically, for the first time in almost a year. Avoiding the moments of desperation is largely what has driven me during these past months. It’s the reason I started micromanaging my social life, plotting activities for weeknights and weekends on a calendar, booking out my time in chunks, planning various activities to pass the hours — so I wouldn’t have to feel or be alone, an attempt to lessen the frequency of those desperate, stifling moments. And again, every time I do have free time, I use it well; I don’t freak out; I don’t perish; I usually even enjoy it. Nonetheless, I still can’t trust that will actually be the case going into it.

I wish I had more assurance about this, about believing that I won’t be alone, even when I am alone, about — as cheesy as it is — the fact that God is always with me. I wish I felt like that was enough. I know it is, in my head, but I have trouble convincing my heart of it in those desperate times.

The truth is, no matter how full I make my schedule, no matter how many dinners and drinks and activities I plan, I’m only running away, fooling myself, prolonging the inevitable. I’m still going to have my moments of desperation until I find and accept that assurance in my heart.

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.” – Fanny J. Crosby, 1873

Whitby Abbey Graveyard

Whitby Abbey Graveyard
Originally uploaded by meganface

Whitby, Yorkshire

It’s that time again. . .

Yes, friends, it is that time again. For what, you ask? Well, it is time for me to be moving on from one location to the next. And you know what that means? It means I need to make some lists.

    Things I Will Miss About the Czech Republic:

  • Three bottles of wine with Megan and Bekka
  • Listening to The Books with Tina
  • Living within steps of the majority of my friends in this country
  • All of my fantastic, 40-something Czech professors
  • Walking through Pražský hrad every day on the way to school
  • Hearing 50 different languages as I walk down the street
  • Cute old Czech people who carry on conversations with me even when I don’t speak Czech and say nothing more than “ano” and “jo”
  • The economic feasibility of eating one mean per day at a restaurant -therefore:

    • Lunch specials at the Golden Bamboo
    • Tuesday early dinners at Bea’s
    • COUNTRY LIFE. . .like, every day
    • Cafe Shabu
    • U Zavešenýho Kafe
    • Radost F/X
    • Ujezd
  • Dobrá polévka at every restaurant
  • Espresso s mlékem
  • Carob-covered macadamia nuts. . .from Country Life, of course
  • Amazingly delicious and cheap produce
  • Breakfast included at the Kolej, especially on apple strudel days
  • Moravské bilé vino – sweet, cheap and delicious
  • H&M, Zara and The New Yorker
  • The rampant availability of good Czech film
    Things I Won’t Miss About the Czech Republic

  • Weight gain
  • Toilet splashback
  • Living within steps of the majority of my friends in this country
  • Nebe
  • Aquafresh infultration
  • Czech people between the ages of 20 and 50 and their anger, irritability and looks of distain
  • Hot, smelly campus computer labs, and my fellow Hybernská rats
  • The Kolej lobby and the incessant proliferation of cabbies
  • Communication breakdowns
  • Smažený syr
  • #57, The Night Tram
  • 8:30 am classes
  • Cooking all my meals on a hotplate in an oft-disgusting kitchen
  • My dorm room
  • Being across the sea from so many people I love

ET, Phone Home.

So, I just found the “main” computer lab (počitačový sál) of Karlova, and it is glorious. It is big (something like 80 computers, the advertisements say), clean, air conditioned, non-smelly, spacious, and is in the 3rd floor of this old building off of Staroměstské Náměstí­ that has really cool exposed wooden ceiling beams and looks/feels like the attic of a rustic old cabin. I am coming here from now on. It was, however, a bit of a struggle to find. I walked up and down Hybernská¡ a few times before finding the KU building, then I went up to the 3rd floor looking for the computers but couldn’t find them. So I went back down and asked the ladies at the information desk, in Ceský, where it was, and they told me, in Ceský, that I had to follow some secret stairway from the 2nd floor to get there. But it feels incredibly good to be writing, and in peace, and at a normal body temperature, and not right on top of some other smelly student.

So, a blog update. I really don’t feel like rehashing all that has happened in the past 2 weeks, especially Paris.

Long story short, Paris was an adventure. It started out horribly, due mainly to events like mice getting into my bag and my food at the hostel, people in the bed next to me at the hostel having sex, my computer breaking, the fact that traveling alone wasn’t as romantic as I thought it would be, and uncontrollable crying for roughly a 36-hour period. But I really enjoyed the museums, and it was fun to be a full-on tourist, which I have tried not to be in Praha — walking down the Champs de Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, taking pictures, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle, eating Nutella crepes, etc. I’m glad I went. It was an experience in endurance and self-discovery. And a mental breakdown is good for you every now and then.

A day after my 15-hour bus ride home, I got on another bus to go to Krakow, which I absolutely loved. (I think I’m more of an Eastern Europe girl. Western Europe just seems like America, but in another language, which isn’t cool, but annoying.) Krakow is a lot like Praha, but is less touristy and smaller, making it seem more authentically Eastern European and less like Eastern European Disneyland. We went out to cool Polish cellar pubs where I drank Polish beer, and to dance clubs, where I danced on a Polish conga line to American disco hits from the 70s. I also ate amazing sauerkraut pierogies, and everything was cheaper even than in Praha. I went into the amazing St. Mary’s Church (Kosciol Mariacki) in Krakow’s Old Town Square, a gothic/baroque structure that, instead of having an interior made of stone, had an interior somehow made of shiny blue marble-looking stuff. It was the most beautiful church I have ever seen, and, struck with the feeling of being in my homeland, I paid a zloty and lit a candle on the altar for Johnny and Marian.

On the way back to Praha, we went to Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was quite an intense experience. Main thoughts on it were: (1) amazement at the sheer size of these institutions, particularly Birkenau. It stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction, endless rows of crumbling chimneys left from buildings that once housed families, horse barns that served as torture barracks, poles holding electrified barbed-wire fencing. I couldn’t imagine the logistics of running a place like that at its full capacity; although the Nazis’ powers were obviously used for evil, the organizational skill behind the whole thing is really quite remarkable. (2) the realization that the Holocaust isn’t really a historical event, but rather something quite contemporary, an event of the present. Both of my grandfathers fought in the war that put a stop to the operation of places like Auschwitz and Birkenau. My grandfathers, only one generation removed from me. This did not happen very long ago.

Things have been good since I have been back in Praha. 2 November was All Soul’s Day here, and the Czechs celebrate it by lighting candles on all the graces in the cemetaries. So we girls went out to Vinohrady to a cemetary, only to find it closed and locked. We looked through the gate though, and it was great to go to a different neighborhood and get away from the town center. It was a kind of run-down, sketchy part of town (at least at night) and it was foggy and creepy, but it made me feel for the first time since I’ve been here that I think I could stay here. Not necessarily that I would want to stay here, at all; but rather just that I could, that I could bear it, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend my life in Eastern Europe. This is a big step, and a healthy one. I had the same feeling last night at Club Cross, where we went to a cool punk show. The people there were extremely friendly and welcoming, young, happy, having fun, smiling — which can be, unfortunately, rare behavior around these parts. I am learning to see and appreciate this city, this experience, for what it is, and sifting through the best aspects of it that I am going to take with me when I leave.

I feel refreshed after the time away during break, both from the city and from my fellow AIFS comrades; I’m out of the rut I was in before the break. I feel a renewed energy to push through these final 6 weeks and am making a conscious effort to go out more, engage in more cultural activities, read more books, and really try to make the most of my time here. I think because the end is in sight, I am gaining some perspective and am beginning to realize that there are aspects of life here that I will miss when I go home. For the past few weeks, I have been blind to this because of my desire to have this be over, to go back to cushy, comfortable America, to be with my family and friends and Jut, and to get on with my life. But I think Prague will endear itself to me in these final few weeks, because I know my days here are numbered. I used about 75 cliches in this paragraph, I think because all of these “abroad reflections” are, indeed, very cliche, and predictable, and ordinary ones. I am not the only American to have ever lived abroad and to go through the process of sorting through these feelings.

I went to a fantastic cafe this afternoon in Nové Město that is a combination cafe/bookstore. It was a storefront cafe with a dark wooden interior, and it reminded a little of my beloved Maxfield’s. It felt good to sit there and think and write. It has felt good to sit here and write, too. Writing is something essential to my being, I have recently discovered. Now, the question is, what do I do about it?

I suppose I should leave this cabin-den of an amazing computer lab and head back to the Kolej. I might go see Manderlay, the new Lars von Trier film, this evening at Světozor. I am going on a day trip tomorrow to Kutná Hora to see an old church decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. Hot. Ahoj.

Paris, Krakow, back to Praha

A real update will come, eventually.

My computer died in Paris — the motherboard — so telecommunications are much more difficult.

However, I can use the school computers to upload pictures pretty easily, so I’ve done that. The new photo page is a Yahoo Photos page, because they give me unlimited space. (And I realized I totally stole Tina’s username, although I was going for the whole “An American In Paris” thing with the “A Dunchak in Praha.” But, yeah.)

There are some pictures from Paris on my Flickr, but I will probably put them on the Yahoo and stop using the Flickr until I have my own comptuer again.

So, details of my European traversing will come soon. Paris was okay, nothing fantastic. Enjoyed the museums — Louvre, d’Orsay, Pompidou. Didn’t enjoy the American-feeling culture, the expensive food, the rats in my hostel, or the breaking of my computer. Krakow was amazing. I loved Poland; it is my favorite place I have been in Europe so far.

Time for class. Only 1.5 months left in my European adventure.