Peter Korchnak

Writer. Immigrant. Traveler.

Tag: Portland

Sampling Summer’s Hike-Inspired Beers

The November issue of the Oregon Beer Growler magazine features my article, “Sampling Summer’s Hike-Inspired Beers,” covering a tapping of beers inspired by nature around Portland.

An unusual pub crawl in Southeast Portland on Oct. 10 proved that the ninth time can be a charm, too. After a series of eight walks that invited “brewers to go on nature hikes and make new beer inspired by edible and medicinal plants on the trail,” eager consumers burned a little more shoe leather as they made the trek from pub to pub during the Beers Made By Walking tapping. Oregon Beer Growler covered the original hikes in the August 2015 issue with the article “A Beer Walk in the Woods” and wanted to follow up on the process.

Continue reading in the Oregon Beer Growler

dream of traveling

When the Dream of Traveling Comes True

This essay first appeared on the travel blog Where Is Your Toothbrush?

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When on the bus to work the other day, I came across a passage in Pico Iyer’s selection of W. Somerset Maugham’s travel writings, The Skeptical Romancer, describing a missionary being carried by locals up a hill. It brought to mind my hike, some 9 months prior, to Cerro Calvario, in Copacabana, Bolivia, at the southeastern edge of Lake Titicaca. At the summit, 3,966 meters / 13,012 feet above sea level, I sat on stone steps catching my oxygen-deprived breath, sipping El Inca beer, and watching a young couple make an offering involving flowers, incense, and beer in hope of soon obtaining a house, a model of which they’d bought from one of the nearby vendors. Beyond the edge of a low wall, the Lake stretched all the way to the horizon. I shielded my eyes from the reflection the setting sun spilled over the flat waters, a strip of brilliant white searing the view into the back of my eyes. I recalled that polar explorers and mountaineers must wear sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, thinking I should have brought my pair with me to prevent Titicaca blindness.

When I was a boy, I devoured adventure novels in which stories took place in various locales beyond the borders of then-Czechoslovakia and the Warsaw Pact countries; Jules Verne was my favorite author, providing a major inspiration for my love of traveling, joined by Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many others.

When I read those pages I was transported to many faraway places alongside the protagonists. Yet I did not dream of visiting the locations of these adventures. I would locate the strange names like Madagascar or Alaska in my trusty Pocket Atlas of the World, thus attaching them to the real world. But my mind continued to associate them with the made-up stories, so they retained a mystical sheen of imaginary places, mirages on the same plane as Atlantis or the center of the Earth. Even as a teenager and college student in the 1990’s, after the borders opened and I traveled on my own, the places from my adventure books remained outside the realm of possibility, far away and beyond dreams.

When the Bolivian newlyweds departed, one step closer to fulfilling their dream of home together, and the view stilled, it occurred to me Lake Titicaca was one of those fantastical places of my boyhood. In fact, I had visited several such places on the round-the-world trip. When I hiked the mountains of Patagonia I wondered why they reminded me of the Slovak High Tatras. When I saw a troop of wild kangaroos lounging by the roadside near Sydney, Australia, I recalled my resolve to have a kangaroo sidekick like Skippy from the eponymous TV show. The Strait of Malacca. The Bosphorus. Machu Picchu. Sarajevo. The Southeast Asian jungle. Havana.

When the memories stopped flooding in, I had an even grander epiphany. All my life I had carried within me a longing, the kind of faint, shapeless sensation you experience when watching a plane cross the sky or an anchored boat bob off a sea shore. As the sun dipped below the thin clouds, the shapeless desire acquired the concrete contours of understanding. Not only did visiting the places of my childhood fantasies render them possible and real, it impressed upon me a sense of completion. Shortly thereafter the places dissolved into memory, the same way authors erase their recollections by putting them into writing.

When I was growing up, I contemplated what marks the transition from a boy to a man: a boy climbs trees, a man chops them; a boy runs through puddles, a man skirts them; a boy desires to flee home, a man yearns to return there. Now I also knew that while a boy entertains a dream of traveling, a man makes that dream come true.

When all this went through my mind, the bus #12 approached the Burnside Bridge. No longer able to focus on Maugham I closed the book mid-sentence. The morning unfolded over the city with the sky opening and the Willamette River reflecting heavy clouds rushing toward the next rainfall.

When the dreams of a boy come true, the man the boy became makes new ones.

Portland

Walking Portland’s Great Divide

The Narratively magazine today is featuring my essay “Walking Portland’s Great Divide,” which documents my walk along Portland’s 82nd Avenue.

Portland ends at 82nd Avenue, I’ve heard it said, where the real world begins. Exit the organic, gluten-free, locally-grown bubble of food carts, microbreweries, bike shops, bearded hipsters and condos towering over Craftsman bungalows in walkable neighborhoods. On the other side of the avenue, East Portland houses a population that’s poorer, less educated, and more diverse than the rest of the city. Most people with Section 8 housing vouchers, new immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe and African-Americans, pushed out of close-in neighborhoods by gentrification, settle here. In the City of Roses, the other side of the tracks means the other side of 82nd Avenue.

For Portlanders, 82nd conjures an endless strip of used-car dealerships, auto-repair services, gas stations, fast-food joints, Asian restaurants, strip malls, dive bars and prostitutes. In ten years of living here — I am originally from Slovakia — I’ve only experienced it while driving to big-box stores in Clackamas, a suburb. Which is to say, I don’t know 82nd at all. I decided to launch my career as a flâneur by walking its seven miles.

Continue reading at Narratively

finding home

Finding Home in Unexpected Places

This is an unpublished article, which I aimed to place on spec in the Oregon Jewish Life magazine.

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When artist Kim Millen set out to paint kids’ faces at the August 1 Cedar Sinai Park Community Barbecue, she expected anything but to discover a home. “Meeting the seniors reminded me of my father and grandfather,” Millen said. “It brought me back to my roots.”

Interested in spirituality since an early age, Millen has explored various religions, always surprised to never have found spirituality in Judaism.

“Mine was only one of two Jewish families in our Phoenix, Arizona, neighborhood where I grew up,” Millen said and clarified that her mother converted to marry her father. “But we weren’t religious. I mean, we had what we called a Hanukkah bush—a Christmas tree with the Star of David on top. I have never met a spiritual Jew.”

Instead, she found her life’s purpose in art. A performance dancer since the 1970’s, she supported herself and her family as a Dr. Scholls sales representative.

“I went from a poor actress-dancer to a regular paycheck,” Millen said. She kept the artistic spirit alive by continuing her dancing career. Homeschooling her two children, now in their 20’s and “out of the house,” propelled Millen to teaching art to kids.

Though a promotion and transfer from Washington to Oregon in 1989 halted her dancing career, Millen continued to teach. In summertime at her house, Millen leads a series of week-long arts camps for up to 8 youngsters at a time.

“I love the kids,” said Millen, a 23-year West Linn resident. “We make art.”

Millen began to paint in the early 2000’s and showing in 2004. She discovered body painting by accident in 2008 when she was assisting her daughter at the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts with a fundraiser for XYZ. As they painted faces for donations, people would ask whether they did birthday parties. Millen realized it was a good opportunity. She now paints, mostly on faces, at parties, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and various events. Believing that every body is a canvas, Millen has also done full-body painting as performance art.

“I enjoy getting a child or adult in front of me and my brush,” Millen said. “They pick a subject and I a creative outlet. Not only do I get to experience someone’s happiness, I get paid for it.”

The cultural connection she found at Cedar Sinai Park made Millen feel at home. Millen, who is 57 but feeling 30, said, “As I get older, I feel more and more Jewish. I want to be connected with Jewish people on a deeper level. Judaism for me is about being at home with who I am.”

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