Of the Center for Rock Research


Over a month has gone by, dear readerss, since I first arrived in wondrous Cleveland, Ohio.  Since then, in addition to much research and work done in the employ of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, I have also begun to explore the maker culture of the city.

Luck would have it that early on in my tenure here, I met a few of the participants and producers at the Center for Rock Research. These fine folks are devoted to music, art and experience production in Cleveland, not limited to but often housed within an industrial space in Asia Town owned and operated by photographer/educator/musician/all-around-crafty guy, Frank Prpic.

The timing of my arrival meant that I was able to volunteer occasionally at the center to aid in the preparation of an enormous Halloween bash. I wrapped tiny sticks, fashioning them into Blair Witch figures. I helped tape styrofoam bodies and eyes to bizarre swamp monsters. I meticulously cut a stencil of the name of a famous headless figure, which was used on a life-size guillotine. I generally painted, milled about, glued together and giggled my way through October just this way.

The end result was a space wholly tranformed, filled with ghosts, vampires, werewolves and all sorts of strange creatures enjoying a memorable evening, one that well outlasted my own energies. Proceeds from ticket sales went to the Cleveland Food Bank.

What I learned from this experience, and what I imagine will prove to be a city-wide ethos, is that the maker world in Cleveland is distinct in many respects from its counterparts in other cities. Clevelanders work to make the city and the spaces they occupy within it their own. And they are wildly committed to these efforts. It isn’t, or at least not at the CRR, a cliquish, hipster activity. It’s a necessity.

It is far too early to say whether this has something to do with the bleak winters or the sometimes disastrous economic busts that take aim at Cleveland. My suspicion is such things impact the way Clevelanders make their world, and thus, their art. It may be, too, that because the city is much maligned in the popular imagination of the rest of the country, Clevelanders feel pressured not only to defend but to thoroughly enjoy their urban landscape.**

Whatever the cause, if the Center for Rock Research is in anyway an exemplar of what DIY life in Cleveland can be like, it is well, well worth further exploration.  Besides, who doesn’t like a serious, wild, glorious Halloween party? Fools and saints, that’s who. And I try not to keep either in my company.


*I hesitated to use this image in part because of its ubiquitous (though varied) presence in the hipster landscape. But you know what? I like it. I tend to like hipsters in general.

**Anecdotal evidence: This week I stopped into the Flying Monkey, a lovely pub a block from my house, and the bartender there donned a black T-shirt with two crossed pistols screen-printed on its chest under the slogan “Defend Cleveland.”

Of la ópera

Prior to departing for a week-long journey in Chile, oh fine readers of mine, I spent one fabulous and rainy night at the opera. This is, in Buenos Aires, a truly spectacular event not only because of the world class singers who take the stage, but because that stage is in the famous Teatro Colón. This enormous theater and national landmark is considered to be among the globe’s greatest opera houses and I can indeed confirm its glory.

We saw Puccini’s Il Trittico and oh how lovely it was. What Puccini really constructed were three mini-operas, each its own act and each regarding a few of the gravest of sins. There’s avarice, adultery, murder, even suicide! Wowzah! Who knew so much badness could make for such musical goodness? Well, Puccini did, obviously.

I loved the opera, I loved the opera house, I even loved the ridiculously expensive glass of champagne I bought at the first intermission.

If ever you find yourself in Buenos Aires as the winter is beginning to paw at the city with its cold, wet claws, spend the night warming your heart with sweet sounds in this wonderful theater.

Of el padre and paranoia

Two really spectacular things have happened over the course of the last 24 hours. The first: the arrival of my father for a visit. The second: the delivery of a sheet of warnings for wealthy travelers to my father upon his check-in at the over-the-top Hyatt hotel where he’ll be staying during his visit.

Let me directly quote two of the best helpful hints on this special sheet:

Bullet point number five: “Do not accept help from strangers when potential ‘stains’ on clothing, etc…”

I have no idea what this means but I find it truly engaging. I myself have never excepted anything from anyone “when potential ‘stains.'” As far as ‘etc.’ goes, maybe. But I’m certainly not going recount those moments here.

Bullet point number eight: “If an inconvenience occurs, do not resist. Try to remember details for the police report.”

Um. Yes. I, luckily, am never resistant to inconvenience. And when an inconvenience occurs, I always remember the details. Though I can’t say that I do so in order to report such details to the police.

I realize the bizarre nature of this little leaflet is due entirely to translation issues, but I love it. I love it even more because rich porteños seem generally and exaggeratedly afraid of their own city. It’s true. Buenos Aires has a high level of crime, though not particularly violent crime. But the lengths the well-off go to and the amount they complain seem somewhat ridiculous to me–particularly in the central neighborhoods where, if one pays decent attention, one is usually quite safe at any hour.

People will try to pick your pocket, sure. They’ll steal your cell phone right out of your hand in some neighborhoods.* One particular favorite of the local robber is to pull a purse or back-pack off of a pedestrian as they speed by on a motorcycle. (This is detailed in bullet point number 6 of the warning list).

I particularly enjoyed my father’s reaction to the hotel-provided precautions. Every time we walked by a motorcycle today he’d walk over and hold out his wrist–offering his watch to the cycle itself, usually unoccupied. He saw a pizza delivery fellow on a bike and jumped back a good foot and (jokingly) shook in his boots.

It’s a city. A big city. A poor city. And frankly, if I were a thief, I’d be lining up outside my father’s ridiculous hotel just waiting for the chetos to walk out with their $1000 purses and smug, if slightly terrified, expressions.


*Very luckily, the only run-in I’ve had during my stay with the criminal element was when I was walking to catch a cab in the center one morning around 4 or 5 a.m. A kid walked up to me and demanded that I give him my phone. I said no. He tried to grab it. Failed. Then ran away.

Of the hipódromo

I spent a fantastic Saturday afternoon and evening at the Hipoódromo Argentino de Palermo–the Buenos Aires horse racing track. It is, as per the above image, a Buenos Aires institution. It is also a perfect place to watch the old, middle and upper class men of the city interact with each other while they smoke cigarettes and drink small cups of coffee. They, like most gambling men, do a lot of yelling as the horses round the bend and gallop past the crowd of onlookers at ridiculous speeds. This makes the hipódromo a great place to learn city-specific curses and to laugh at the weird mix of horse names given to the poor animals you watch. My most recent favorite: pirata perseguido, though ScorpioNYC, pronounced phonetically be the announcer as “scorpionick”, was a close second.

Also, the balding, khaki-short-wearing Argentine men sometimes bring their grandchildren, who are more fun to bet on than the horses. They run half the length of the track as faux jockeys, whipping all the while their imaginary horses with rolled-up newspapers.

This was, actually, my second visit to the hipódromo. There is something particularly pleasant about spending time at this track in the muggy Porteño summer. It is close to the water and near one of the city’s largest parks so the winds for which Buenos Aires was named are palpable and cool. It’s also lovely that the minimum bet is so low. For two pesos, the equivalent of fifty U.S. cents, you can bet on any race. I’ve lost everything I’ve put down so far. Entrance is free.

An important fact about the hipódromo: the snack bar is terrible and overpriced. The worst hamburgers and hot dogs on earth are served at the aforementioned bar. You can’t disguise the foulness of these disasters with the salsa golf, essentially a mayonnaise-heavy Thousand Island dressing that they freely offer. The beer they sell is non-alcoholic. The ham and cheese sandwiches are an abomination. Bring your own food and beverages if ever, my dear comrades, you find yourself at the B.A. tracks.