Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who Says Cleveland Isn't Cool?

Who says Cleveland isn’t cool?

We witnessed The Farnsworth Invention on the main stage of Beck Center for the Arts on Friday evening, and it was an excellent play written by Aaron Sorkin who wrote West Wing. Farnsworth invented the television but died tragically without notice. He lost his soul to a dream that he reached only to have it snatched from him. The play so well written and acted that there was little need for the scant scenery. The texture of the words was rich.

Last night Paul and I went to the Cleveland International Film Festival and saw two films. The first, a documentary called The Last Days of Shishmaref, was disappointing. It was produced in the Netherlands and directed by Jan Louter, who took an hour to point out how the island on the northwest tip of Alaska (north of Nome) is disappearing because of global warming, and did so by playing television coverage. We had no sense of why the culture and homelands of these native villagers should be saved--the people no longer hunt with spears or use their dog sleds, do not partipate in religious ceremonies, and give us no explanation of their white-man styled cemetery with its white crosses jutting up from the ground. Shishmaref will soon be washed away to sea and washed anew.

The Black Sea (Mar Nero in Italian), directed by Federico Bondi, was introduced by the editor of the US Italian-American newspaper who made it her cause to get more Italian films on the CIFF's list. The film was extremely well acted and the photography had an Old World feel that lent beauty to the scenery of Italy and a Romanian world where people travel by waterways and haul goods in wagons drawn by horses. A young Romanian woman who wants a better life for her children goes to Italy to make money by caring for an older Italian woman to make money she cannot make at home. The women get off to a shaky start, but the older woman mellows and comes to love and respect the patient and caring younger woman who, in turn, learns that life isn't as simple as she thinks it is.

Yes, Cleveland is cool.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


When people ask me about our trip to Alaska this summer, I tell them the land is big, beautiful, and wild, and the people are resilient. With 600,000 people in a territory 2.3 times the size of Texas, Alaska is mostly wilderness. The Alaska Highway traverses through Anchorage and Fairbanks and up to Prudhoe Bay, but 40% of Alaskans have no access to roadways and must use dog sleds, bush planes and boats to travel; no roads go in or out of Juneau or many of the other towns in Alaska. Native American and Russian cultures permeate a place slow to change in a place where permafrost lies below the surface, glacier-spread mountains cover vast expanses of the land, and fish remains a major food source in a place almost surrounded by water.

In 1796, the swampy floodplain at the mouth of the Cuyahoga was the frontier. By the time of the 1832 cholera epidemic, only 600 people lived in Cleveland—it was a frontier because it was remote, much as Alaska is today. General Moses Cleaveland oversaw the settlement on part of the Western Reserve tract of the Northwest Territory granted to the State of Connecticut, which was populated by Native Americans. The first settler in Cleveland was Lorenzo Carter, who built a log cabin on the banks of the Cuyahoga River; we saw log cabins all along the Chena River and in downtown Fairbanks. Native American populations and culture were obliterated by epidemic diseases, violence, displacement and intermarriage, and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 without informing the Native Americans. Native Alaskans experienced the same catastrophic hardships as the native population living near Cleveland did.

Thus I reported to the readers of Cool Cleveland in the fall of 2008: