School of Rock, Butterfly Prisons and “Football”: Cleveland, OH

After leaving the bewildering world of Canada, I head towards Cleveland, the “greatest city on Earth” [citation needed]. Cleveland is primarily known for … something, possibly. Oh, I know, it’s known for LeBron James [L: Ix-nay…]. Oh, well, how about the Cleveland Br—[L: You know, I’d just avoid sports altogether. Their last success was Jesse Owens.] Okay, well, there’s got to be something impressive about Cleveland. [L: It was ranked the 11th most dangerous city in the US?] So it couldn’t even break into the top ten? This place sucks.

Misty ClevelandHere is God trying to hide Cleveland.

Well let’s give it a shot. Here’s one of the big hitters of Cleveland, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The reason it’s ended up in Cleveland is due to the history of the term “rock ‘n’ roll”. Although the music originated elsewhere, a Cleveland DJ is thought to be the origin of the phrase. Plus I’m guessing they bought the land with whatever change they had in their pockets.

Unfortunately there’ll be no pictures from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame has they have a no photography allowed policy, because if Rock ‘n’ Roll is anything, it’s strict photography guidelines.

06-nopictureRock on.

Okay, okay, it’s pretty good. It had an excellent collection of early blues players as an introduction, before leading you through the burgeoning ‘60s scene and onwards, with a variety of artefacts (as you’d expect, guitars and other instruments, costumes, but also one of Elvis’ cars). Being the most prominent museum in Cleveland it also attracted, er, buses of school kids. Clearly someone’s been watching School of Rock a bit too much.

School of RockA lot of rockstars drew from their impoverished conditions for their art. This will be important to you.

But the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is only one stop in the vibrant metropolis of Cleveland, C-Town, The Cleve (thank you Wikipedia), now it’s time to hit up the Cleveland Museum of Art. And we’re going to try to be nice.

Cleveland Museum of Art

It’s … good, in a stark sort of way. It’s got art, certainly, several rooms of it, in fact. Got a couple of Turners (love Turner). It had a woman casually playing the harpsichord, in a way that suggested that yes, this was the way most Clevelandians filled their time. It also had, what I can only suggest, is hipster art:

Hipster Portrait

This guy, with his supremely douchey glasses, was painted in 1837. This guy was a hipster 170 years before hipsters. He’s the Ur-Hipster. He wore those glasses to protect his eyes from his lamps, which he worried burned brightly enough to damage his eyesight, so you just know he’d be as exciting to talk to as a hipster.

Across the way from the Museum of Art is a building which, using my architect’s eye, can best be described as “melty”:

PeterLewisBuilding Source

Concerned about the urban decay of the Sixth City (seriously, it’s got a ton of nicknames) , the architect behind the Peter B. Lewis Building, Frank Gehry, decided to capture the zeitgeist of Cleveland and built something that looked as if it had been abandoned to fall apart, with a couple of fires thrown in for luck.

But that’s not all you can see here, there’s also the Cleveland Botanical Garden right across the road (if nothing else, almost everything there is to see in Cleveland is conveniently plonked next to each other).

It's a PlantIt’s a plant!

But while I was feigning interest in plants, I uncovered the poorly kept secret of this “Botanical Garden”, it’s really a butterfly prison.

Butterfly Prison More like Botany Bay.

Yes, kept in hot, humid conditions, these poor butterflies can only dream of the harsh, cold outside of Cleveland. They are left to feed on nothing but rotten bananas and stray schoolchildren.


As you can see in the above picture, it’s not just innocent butterflies these cruel Clevelandish imprison, but little birdies, some tortoises and a chameleon. (The chameleon has actually been in every photograph this post. He’s just really good.) The people running this house of horror are obviously degenerates and, as I continue my trek into darkness, I come across this:

The Christmas Room

While the green lights flash, a haunting, wordless version of Carol of the Bells plays. This is presumably where the ring masters come to take their drugs. Oh and then there’s a gingerbread tribute to Minecraft. For some reason.


I leave that nightmare place with the butterflies silent screams still… well, not “echoing”, since they were silent, but certainly present in my mind. I finish off this corner of culture and horror by visiting Severance Hall.

Severance HallSource

Home to the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the American “Big Five”, it is a stunning building and hub of culture. By which I mean some of Air Force One was filmed there. I’m here to listen to some wonderful culture. Since I’m in America, it obviously includes banjos. It’s an excellent performance and Béla Fleck is well worth checking out, but that sounds suspiciously like I’m being positive about Cleveland, so to balance it out, the Cleveland Browns:

Cleveland Browns

My friends very kindly took me to my first American Football game, which featured the giants of the Cleveland Browns playing the titans of the Kansas City Chiefs (making them both seem normal sized). Of course, now that I’ve supported the Brownies (… seriously?), they’re my team. They’re my guys. I have a love and passion for that team that defies logic. I will gladly murder anyone who besmirches their name. Football!

Since I was new to the game, my friend helpfully explained it in the only way someone from the UK/Ireland would understand it: via a Quidditch metaphor.

The parallels are uncanny. (Source)

If you’re weird, however, you might compare it to rugby. It’s one of those two-nations-divided-by-similarity things where it seems that American football and rugby should, on the surface, be obvious cousins, but there were always things which didn’t quite make sense. Why, for instance, did American football stop every couple of seconds? Obvious marketing ploy to fit in more ad-breaks? Give time for the teams to enjoy a cheeseburger? I think, however, that comparisons between rugby and American football can only be made on a superficial level, as the essence of the games is substantially different. Rugby’s a dynamic, quickly developing game and while American football can feature that, its main focus is on tactics: setting up and calling individual actions rather than ad hoc’ing it, something closer to chess.

ChessChess. (Source)

Both sports feature the same levels of public intoxication though, so we’re not that different, you and I. The crowd interactions do have a few underlying differences, however. British crowds, particularly in football, will drum up chants, parodying songs, general mockery. I feel the American crowd is somewhat more direct, if unfocused, as demonstrated by the gentleman behind me. One of the players had just been tackled and landed hard and the gentleman behind yelled, in one fluid sentence:

“Yeah you better stay down, I hope your leg’s broken you ass, these cup holders are too small for my beer. You see this? I can barely fit it in.”

To cap off this whirlwind tour of Cleveland, I visit the West Side Market, which is celebrating its 100th year.

West Side Market

It’s a quietly proud place, celebrating its traditions while also embracing progress, with a humble eagerness to show how far they’ve come in a century.

Free Range AmishThey no longer keep their Amish in cages.

So that’s Cleveland. I was mugged very little, had several wonderful experiences, but I think after this I should try somewhere that isn’t struggling with a legacy of urban decay and depression. Anyway, I’m off to Detroit next.

Cleveland TourismVisit Cleveland’s official brochure picture.


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