Kde domov můj. Where is my home. This is the national anthem of my birth land, the Czech republic. It is a land of delicious, meticulously prepared food. It is also a land where fried cheese and beer is a perfectly acceptable supper. It is a land where castles and chapel towers loom on the horizon around every bend in the road. It is a land where people speak their mind, no matter how politically or socially incorrect. It is a land of fiercely loyal people. It is a land of citizens who truly believe where they live is the best place on earth.
It is a land of strange holiday traditions. To celebrate Easter boys will weave a sort of whip out of willow branches and carry these with them door to door Halloween style asking for treats. Where are the girls, you ask? At home and inside, hiding from the roving boys. What did you think the whips were for?
The Day of Love falls on May 1st, where girls dream hopefully of finding a dashing young lad to kiss them under a blooming tree. Should you be one of the unlucky ones to not find yourself enveloped in blossoming spring romance it is said you will grow old, weary and ugly in the next year.
Christmas eve was when the celebrations always began in our family. After a large meal my sisters and I would go into one of our bedrooms with our Dad and build a blanket fort. We would then wait until we heard the bell we had placed by the door ring and know that Jesus himself had successfully deposited presents under our tree. The rest of the night was spend rolling happily in piles of wrapping paper.
I once asked my mom what Christmas was like in her house growing up. Jesus brought the presents too, but he didn’t just place them under the tree. He brought the whole tree, decorations and all. She grew up in a small village called Bitovany where chicken coops are just about as commonplace as front doors, and people like their food fresh. In the days and weeks before the big holiday feast a live carp would be placed in the bathtub to await sacrifice. I don’t eat fish, but I am quite curious to how this affects a families holiday cleanliness.
I just returned to Czech Republic for the first time in 8 years. My goals for this trip are to learn more about the history of my birth-land and re-activate that part of my brain which holds this strange language that was my first with rolling R’s, sharp T’s, and hissing Sh’s (actually spelt š). I also want to meet other musicians and hear the songs they are writing in this part of the world.
I celebrated the last day of the year hiking through beautiful foothills with the Sound of Music floating in my head before having the most relaxed and sober new year’s eve of my adult life. I’ve been enjoying a change from my usual night-owl lifestyle here while adjusting to the time change. I’m sure it won’t last long, but it was nice to give 2013 a healthy start. I am lucky to have a large found family in Canada, but it has always been just my sisters, parents and I from the blood clan so it is a real treat to have extended family around. I just left the delicious cooking and calm of my grandma’s house to spend some time getting to know Prague before flying to Toronto in February.
While here I will be working on writing some concept songs about Czech revolutionary history. So far I only have one song on the go (and several rough ideas), about a young man named Jan Palak. Jan was a student and activist who doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire in Prague’s main square as a final act of protest during the Prague Spring. He died in the hospital shortly after this outrageous call to action, but not before inspiring several other youth from across the country to perform their own act of fatal rebellion. It is hard for me to understand his story. To take your life in such a painful, horrible way….that takes really believing that things need to get better or life is no longer worth living. My parent’s must have felt this same feeling to some degree when they decided to pack up their few essential possessions and flee the country with two young toddlers. Because of the strict rules against emigration, they could not even tell my grandparents they were leaving in fear of putting them at risk of persecution.
In other news, the rest of what came to be know as the Spooky Action tour went just as well as the first few days. We hit some rough weather and ended up stuck in Jasper at the mountain hostel, which turned out to be exactly what I needed for a couple of nights. Drinking pumpkin ale around a snow-fort fire pit on a rocky mountain with a couple of guitars, a belly dancer, and great company will quickly make you forget you ever had a plan in the first place. I finally got the courage to complete the 4 hour drive down an ice highway through Banff National Park to visit Jolene’s old friend Brian in Calgary. I have always loved visiting this friendly town, and this time was no exception. We spent Halloween watching dead music legends sing at the Ironwood Stage, which may just be the best designed live music venue I’ve ever been to, and returned the next night to watch Del Barber tell hilarious stories and sing heart-felt songs that left me reminiscing on my years of prairie living. Brian was kind enough to allow us to use his basement as a jam space and dance floor. We even got an late night group cha-cha lesson from him, which was incredibly fun despite me being incredibly terrible at it. We made the trip one night to play at the Acoustic Owl Lounge, another happening live music venue in Lethbridge.
The next morning we piled back into the van with our newest addition, the silken voiced Aussie Montana Campbell, and wove through the valleys of mighty giants to make our way to the Kootenay’s to play a string of shows (just in time to throw on a tutu and catch the Chimney Swallows one more time at the Ymir Schoolhouse). My previous time spent in this part of the world was limited and I fell in love just as I had predicted with the friendly people, slow pace of living, happening arts scene, and breathtaking scenery. We were lucky enough to catch a sunny break in a long spell of wet dark weather and experience the epic views of Nelson and beyond from a hike up to Pulpit rock and the flagpole.
We ended the trip staying at the the Little Slocan Lodge, an completely self-sustaining eco-lodge whose designer, Nala, I met last year on the beach in Mexico. Nala is one of those wonderful creative, kind, giving, fun, and full of energy people that one always feel very lucky to have come across. The walls of the lodge are made of straw bales with a hemp-based weather coating called Stonehemp. Metallic rods built into the floor produce radiant heat and the lighting comes from a creek-powered generator. There was a special creative energy in this place that we all felt, not to mention some seriously amazing acoustics. We even filmed a little music video up in the meadow of this Lyle Lovett tune, inspired by a horse and ship lamp I found right next to each other in the Slocan Thrift Store.
Shortly after this trip I headed back to Cumberland to finish up recording on the album. The very talented Cumberland Brothers, Jack Roland and Archie Pateman, laid down some fiddle and upright bass. My friend Annie Becker lent her strong and soulful pipes on the backup vocals for “Seasonal Blues”, and Doug Cox iced it with some dobro. It’s been so rewarding seeing this project come together. I wrote the majority of these songs before I ever knew I wanted to record an album, so having to decide how to represent them on recordings was a bit overwhelming for me at first. It has been so rewarding to work with these incredible creative people to co-interpret the tracks, and I think the album is going to be a very happy medium between the stripped-down acoustic recordings I love so much and the bigger band sound that also gets my blood flowing. It will be quite a trip to finally hold a physical copy in my hand. Happy 2013 everyone! Next up is planning a kick-ass summer tour with the aforementioned Miss Annie Becker. Here’s hoping there’s many new adventures and friendships to come.