Friday, March 27, 2009

Film Fest: This One Rocks

If you love music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, The Wrecking Crew will entertain and educate you.

For many of us, groups such as The Beatles, Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Rolling Stones, Monkees, The Association, Eagles and Byrds, created the soundtracks of our lives. Each had a string of mega hits that will never leave us.

Let me separate the eight hit machines in the above list into two groups, and then ask you a question.
Group A – The Beach Boys, Monkees, The Association, and Byrds
Group B -The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Eagles and CSNY

Find a reason for the grouping? The answer is wonderfully revealed in The Wrecking Crew, a fascinating documentary for every rock ‘n’ roller.

The subtle, yet seismic answer: the musicians that played on the hit recordings in Group A were all studio musicians. Oh sure, you probably saw some of them play instruments while they were on tour, but the music we grew up listening to came from session musicians. It was not until Group B that they brought a new dimension to the music; they played their own instruments on the recordings.

Even more interesting was that a very small group of studio musicians, between a dozen or two, were the same people who played on virtually every hit record that came out of California in the 1960s.

This tight band of players became known as the “Wrecking Crew.” They played on thousands of recordings, but were rarely listed on the album covers. They did not seem to care. They were making a fabulous living and working nonstop. This documentary is their story.

When a producer had a song in the ’60s, from Sinatra to Glen Campbell (a former “Wrecking Crew” member), Jan & Dean, Sonny and Cher, Mamas and Papas, the Phil Spector stable, Ricky Nelson, TV commercials, it was time to book the “Wrecking Crew.” Some of the names wafted to the fringe of public consciousness, drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, saxophonist Plas Johnson, bass player Carol Kaye; but for the most part, the crew played on and on and on in obscurity.

And they loved it. Hit after hit rolled off the instruments of the “Wrecking Crew.”

They traveled from one recording studio to another on a nonstop treadmill. The players were so busy they hardly had time to listen to or appreciate their work. Day after day, morning till night, song after song, group after group, and singer after singer, it was an endless blur of rock ‘n’ roll. The whirlwind lasted about 10 years, tapering off when groups began to play their own material in the studios.

If these are the songs of your life, you will love the music, the vintage film clips and the stories behind the music. If you are a younger rock ‘n’ roller, the two hours with members of the “Wrecking Crew” are a valuable history lesson. Don’t miss their class.
— Bob Carson

Saturday, March 28, 9:25 p.m.; Sunday, March 29, 4:25 p.m. USA, 98 minutes

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Film Fest: Digging In

This film does what a good documentary should: Start an argument.

Shortly after the credits, those in my circle took positions and defended them with the tenacity of a barbed fishhook in soft flesh. I was in the minority and, much to my annoyance, failed to persuade the others of my side’s correctness. Therefore, free of interruption from my colleagues, I will shamelessly take this opportunity to present my position.

The Garden, by director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, follows a group of Latinos who transformed a section of urban ruin in south Los Angles into gardens. The 14 square acres was pleasant and unique in the urban landscape. The crops were pretty. The people seemed nice. The film claims to be about the dignity, determination and the farmers fight to preserve their garden when the legal owner decides to reclaim his property.

I felt Kennedy was trying show these poor people as exceptional gardeners who turned urban blight into a neighborhood Eden of flowers, trees and vegetables. The land was a symbol of hope for poor citizens in a sad environment. This is true. This is good.

But, and this is where my delusional and inflexible friends missed the point, it was not their land. They were trespassers. No matter the good they did, they should not have been there in the first place.

The bulk of the movie, an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary, deals with the gardeners’ long, ugly fight to keep the property. (I will not tell you who comes out on top.) Attorneys and activists waged an epic battle in the courts and in the press. Celebrities stopped by. The farmers skirmished among themselves. Voices were raised. Cameras rolled. Politicians danced.

It’s a long sad saga that would later inspire my friends to mumble about justice, beauty and the human spirit. My point was entitlement. These nice people were not entitled to an inch of the ground where they planted their gardens; they just happened to be in the neighborhood and did a good thing.

Oh well, see the film, make your own decision. With wisdom, it will be mine.

— Bob Carson

Friday, March 27, 6:45 p.m.; Saturday, March 289, 11:10 a.m. USA, 107 minutes

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Film Fest: Crooning Moment

I loved this charmer.

I laughed out loud a few times, felt sad a few times and was not sure what was going on much of the time. Still, it worked.

A French singer, who was a one-hit wonder 30 years ago, is hired from his dead-end job as a hotel clerk to sing his one song at a birthday party in Lebanon. One of his few remaining fans, the wife a wealthy coffee baron, loves the song and has fond memories of Bruno Caprice’s visit during the war-torn years of the ‘70s.
Bruno has no such memories. He just wants a check and a change from his dreary life.

Patrick Chesnaisis a real presence as Bruno, a washed up, yet oddly dignified sad sack. Like many French leading men, he is several kilometers from handsome, but somehow he is a babe magnet. Eventually, the aging singer hooks up with a Julia Roberts look-alike. This phenomena is inspirational to American males; it’s like beautiful French women always forget to wear their glasses.

Like many French movies, a tight plot is a superficial accessory. The film is more like a series of skits loosely strung together as different characters dance in the spotlight. A scene of Jerry Lewis-like slapstick can be followed by surprising melancholy. Hints at dark Lebanese history and kidnapping are followed by Guys and Dolls caricatures. Serious songs share the stage with jingles and bad poetry.

The setting in Lebanon was a revelation. Those of us used to seeing this place on CNN after war, terrorism or mayhem would probably not consider a visit to the mid-eastern nation as part of our bucket list. Sure, it’s a movie, but I found myself on the Internet checking flights. City or country, Lebanon looked great to me.

Melodrama Habibi may be a stretch for some: It has subtitles. It is quirky. But it was fun, and it had heart. Evidently others have found the crazy stew appetizing, the film recently bagged the audience award at the Brussels European Film Fest.

Get a ticket to hear Bruno Caprice croon.
— Bob Carson
Wednesday, March 25, 6:50 p.m.; Thursday March 26, 2:40 p.m.; Friday, March 27, 9:20 a.m. France, Lebanon, 98 minutes Subtitles

Wine Squared

Pour me a glass of Barbera or uncork a bottle of Tocai Friulano and I’m one happy woman. Bring me bruschetta or a plate of antipasto to nibble with these Italian wines and my state elevates to blissful. That’s why Grotto , the recently opened wine bar on Shaker Square, is my kind of place. The list, dominated by Italian reds and whites, offers a handpicked selection of appellations, styles, and labels from the old world and the new. The kitchen turns out a really appealing line-up of small Mediterranean accented plates that lend themselves to snacking while sipping. Better yet, you get all this in casual, comfortable setting without any fine dining formality or the need to eat a lot and spend big.

Right now, there are 26 wines by the glass. I hope they expand that number to encourage more experimentation and exploration of their “cellar”- a glass walled room behind the bar. On the food side there are sliders, salads, soups, four out-of-the-ordinary pizzas, medium-sized portions of pasta, and few hearty meat-centric house plates.

Some food and wine pairings I tried and enjoyed: Polpette, unusually light and tasty meatballs with a bright, supple 2005 Barbaresco from Cantina Del Pino; grilled prawns and radicchio slaw and a chalky Lion’s Peak Marsanne; gnocchi with lobster and rigatoni with rapini partnered by Leonetti’s Rose Bardolino, bone dry and full-bodied. And for an after-dinner or end of the night option, I recommend the housemade tiramsu with sparkling Braccheto d’Aqui.

The floor to ceiling makeover of the space, once a woman’s clothing boutique, is astonishing. Liberal use of stenciled stucco, stone, and brickwork create a charming Euro-past look, reinforced with columns and arches that suggest Roman aqueducts. The wine collection is stored in a glass “cellar” behind the bar makes for a dramatic centerpiece. The main space is open and sociable but there are also smaller, cozier more intimate spots to sit. The patio is literally right out on the Square and I’m really looking forward to nabbing a table there as soon as the weather gets warm.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Film Fest: A Troll Through Italian Politics

Wow, what an amazing work of cinematography.

After an action packed montage of murder and assassination in the first minute, the director, Paolo Sorrenttino, settles in and paints a hundred masterpieces - beautiful, evocative settings of palaces, Italian streets, scenes, etc. Then, in the center of every masterpiece, he has placed an odd, unattractive, phlegmatic gnome wearing a business suit.

The movie chronicles the career of seven-time Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Beginning in 1947, Andreotti and his Christian Democrat party ruled Italy for 44 years, until a series of scandals called “Bribesville” finally got them off stage. Andreotti has been constantly rumored to have been behind all sorts of illegal activities, including Mafia connections.

The story and the players in this long-playing Italian drama are common ground for Europeans, especially Italians. Unfortunately for most of Americans, we must have been taking a long nap. He is one weird dude, sort of like a sphinx. I am sad to report that despite spending several years teaching government and history in Ohio high schools, I never heard of Andreotti or the juicy scandal.

We loved our trials of the century: O.J. and President Clinton’s impeachment, but most Americans never heard of “Bribesville.” This really hurts on two levels; we realized we missed a great, scandalous, potboiler of a trial, and we do not know what in the hell is going on in this movie.

The craftsmanship is outstanding, a wonderful lesson for any film fanatic. However, if you are not up to date on Italian politics, the blizzard of names, political parties and past crimes will irritate you. My suggestion is to do some research on recent Italian politics before you see the film; an hour or so in the library or on the computer will help. This sequence works much better than what I did, watch ll Divo and then do to the research.
— Bob Carson
Friday, March 27, 11:35 a.m.; Saturday, March 28, 6:45 p.m. Italy, France, Subtitles, 117 minutes

Monday, March 23, 2009

Egger: PD will remain a daily

Plain Dealer publisher Terry Egger told employees today that the paper will continue to publish as a daily -- even as the PD's parent company, Advance Publications, slashes some of its Michigan newspapers to three and two days a week.

"As soon as you do that, game over," Egger said, according to this post.

I agree. Two weeks ago, while I was debunking the Web speculation that the PD would close, I wondered whether Egger would have to look at the model Detroit's dailies are turning to. They're cutting home delivery to three days a week and publishing newsstand-only mini-papers the rest of the week.

The PD's parent company looked at the Detroit model and went further with four of its Michigan papers. The Ann Arbor News is closing, to be replaced by a website that'll put out a twice-weekly print edition. The Saginaw News, Flint Journal and Bay City Times are going to three days a week.

But Egger's reaction to that idea is a forceful no. (He delivered it as he announced reductions in pay and work days for non-union staff.) I think his "game over" line means: the people who loyally read the paper daily over breakfast are your core audience, the last readers you want to give up on.

I agree. Egger's insistence that the PD will remain a daily (read: as long as he's in charge) should reassure anyone who cares about Cleveland journalism.

p.s.: Egger is speaking at Old Stone Church on Public Square at lunchtime Wednesday. I'm sure he'll get lots of questions about the PD's future.

FIlm Fest: Deep in the Crease

I love it when people go deep. It has become somewhat of a preoccupation for me to seek out stories about people that find a passion that becomes all-consuming.

Chess players, Star Trek fans, bridge players, harness-racing fans — any infatuation seems relatively simple on the surface. Scratch through and these preoccupations are infinitely complex. There will always be a group of the infatuated that follows the muse to the extreme. So it is with origami.

Between the Folds finds a dozen artists, hobbyists and scientists that have surrendered to the siren call of folding paper. Some of the people we spend time with in this documentary may be eccentric, but the majority are extremely intelligent. Many have left other professions to take single sheets of paper and turn them into astonishing works of art and science. Watch them at work here.

It seems hard to believe that you could become mesmerized by listening to people talk about folding paper, but believe it. Also, It is hard to categorize paper folding. Is this art, mathematics, science, hobby or theory? Whatever you call it, hard-core folders spend unbelievable amounts of effort, time, work, brain power and emotion.

It was interesting how fresh the world of origami felt. Computers and theorists have taken the sheet of paper to another plane. In their interviews, several of the participants gave the impression that in the world of the paper folder, we have just touched the surface.

Fold yourself into a seat for this one.
— Bob Carson
Thursday, March 26, 7:15 p.m.; Saturday, March 28, 2:15 p.m.(Proceeded by Sing Opera!, a 27 minute film showcasing how 64 children mount a world premiere of the family opera “Keeper of the Night”) USA - 55 minutes

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Film Fest: Hiring Squad

The ranks of my employed friends have been thinning rapidly. I hope they do not look for re-employment at Farewell-Gutmann, a fictional company with all the warmth that a firefly produces in a blizzard. This is not a great film, but it is oddly compelling.

Working in a large office or corporation is a strange trip. So is this movie. Welcome to Farewell-Gutmann plays like a frightening fairy tale. Instead of ogres hiding under bridges, scary things happen in the hallways and in cold offices.
When their boss dies, three upper management people in a large pharmaceutical company hope to be promoted. The company sends an eerie Bela Lugosi look-alike to put the hopefuls through some grueling, degrading and unorthodox interviews.

A second, equally desperate, group of job seekers wants to get their feet in the door. Perhaps it is the difficult economic climate, but watching these people writhe and grovel was very uncomfortable. The barren corridors and antiseptic offices was oppressive. A few of the job seekers went over the top in expressing their desires, and the director seemed to have one foot in black comedy and the other in drama.

Still, the workplace is a compelling vehicle for a director. Everyone has been there: looking for work, looking for promotion, hiring, firing or fearing termination. We know some of theses characters will get the job and others will get jettisoned. This empathy makes it hard to take our eyes off of the screen.

If you happen to be one of the many recently unemployed, you will leave the theater after two hours at Farewell-Gutmann with the consolation that you may not be missing much – just the money and the pressure.
— Bob Carson
Saturday, March 21, 1:50 p.m.; Monday, March 23, 4:30 p.m. Spain; Subtitles, 100 minutes

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Film Fest: Slow Dance

Thanks to the Cleveland International Film Festival, Demark is at the top of my list for relocation should I ever get deported. With the exception of a few cartoons, the Danes keep a low profile. The European nation looks tidy and compact, the people appear relatively normal, the food edible, and the housing (although a tad small) looks livable. They make good movies too, including a couple of my all-time favorites films.

Dancers is difficult to review without giving away the plot. Even reading the description in the program, as I did, will spoil much of the drama. Here’s the problem. If a romanitc film surrounds a mysterious stranger entering the picture with a mysterious past, once you know who the stranger is, and what his past is, a lot of the thrill is gone. As the viewer, knowing this information keeps you off the edge of your seat. You know what is going to happen; you just sit back and wait for the events to happen.

With this in mind, there are a few things to consider: The acting in Dancers is terrific. The setting is unique, a family-operated dance school in existence since World War II. A middle aged-daughter and her mother live and work amid dance students. The unique setting allows music and dance to easily integrate with the drama. As the final credits roll, this is one of those films where you turn to the person sitting next to you and say, “I think she . . .?“

My feeling for Dancers may have changed considerably had I entered the theater in my normal state of oblivion. A little knowlegde can be a dangerous thing. My advice, if you choose to see Dancers – don’t do your homework.
— Bob Carson
Friday, March 20, 11:45 a.m.; Sunday, March 22, 9:20 p.m. Denmark, Subtitles,100 minutes

Film Fest: Market Crash

Attending the Cleveland International Film Festival is an adventure. Inherent in adventures are risks.

For example, if you take a wild plunge into the stock market, you may hook up with Bill Gates in the startup days of Microsoft; however, you may also sign up with Bernie Madoff toward the end of his Ponsi scam. If you go on an African safari, you may return with wonderful memories and ancient artifacts or an exotic foot fungus.

The Market - A Tale of Trade
falls into the Bernie and fungus column. A movie like this is dangerous territory for first-time attendees, because if this is your first experience at the film festival, it may well be your last.

The film started very slowly, then slowed down. The Turkish setting was more despressing than your 401(k). The glacial pace had zero drama.

The plot was nonexisitant, with just a hint of a story about smuggling some medicine for a hospital (it did not help to have the valuable medicine look like a refilled 7-up bottle). The expressionless protagonist basically drove around ugly cities in a beat-up red pick up looking for things to trade. Occasionally, he climbed out of the truck to get drunk.

Through the years, many of the films at the film festival that I did not like managed to entertain me on some level. I can amuse myself with the landscape, the film techology, the exotic language or countless other sideroads. However, The Market – A Tale of Trade, did not give me much to work with.
— Bob Carson
Friday, March 20, 4:40 p.m.; Saturday, March 21, 2:10 p.m. Germany, UK, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Subtitles, 93 minutes

Friday, March 20, 2009

Film Fest: Jack Sparrow Lives

A good band of pirates will always kidnap the hearts of film lovers. From Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp, swashbucklers pack theaters. We know we shouldn’t, but we love mayhem on the high seas.

This documentary features environmental pirates chasing commercial pirates. It’s quite a chase —and quite a battle when they meet. At the Edge of the World is a riveting voyage.

Two ships set out for Antarctica with one mission: Stop the poaching of whales by Japanese hunters posing as researchers using whatever guerilla-style tactics it takes. The ships spend 50 grueling days and nights on the unforgiving, yet beautiful, Ross Sea searching for whales and illegal whalers. The filmmaker, Dan Stone, captures it all as they endure danger, loneliness, seasickness, brutal cold, icebergs, confrontation and perhaps some second thoughts about their mission.

And they should have doubts, the task is very dangerous and the results are difficult to measure. We (and they) spend time considering whether or not what they are doing is worth the danger. Are their tactics the best way to save whales?
This film does so many things so well. Gorgeous cinematography, much of it aerial, is used to show a rarely visited world. Questions are posed that are difficult to answer as we are put into the parkas and rubber boots of interesting people. I have little doubt that At the Edge of the World will captivate audiences and become one of the favorites at this year’s festival.

As you exit the theater, you might turn to your partner and ask about ends justifying the means, or the boundaries of justice. This crew of eco-warriors goes overboard – literally.

Go with them. — Bob Carson

At the Edge of the World. Friday, March 20, 6:45 p.m.; Saturday, March 21, 11:00 a.m. Antarctica, Australia, USA - 92 minutes

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Film Fest opening night: I won't tell the secret

The man on the right, Mike Cram, is brilliant. After endless failed inventions, he thought of one brilliant one. A small thing. But you probably know it. And you probably like it. Probably especially if you're a guy.

Then Mike decided to write a screenplay about himself and his crazy business partner. The guy in the center, Greg Goodell, wrote a book about making movies, and Mike read it and liked it and got Greg to executive-produce his movie. The guy on the left, Dallas Roberts, plays Mike in the movie, Lightbulb, which was tonight's opening-night film at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

I won't tell you what Mike's invention was, because that would spoil the movie's surprise, and it'd just a be a movie about _____, not a fun movie full of likable characters, a buddy movie about two friends who are great and awful for each other, and a movie about a guy whose wife knows his faults and can't stand them anymore. And if Lightbulb finds a distributor, and the movie comes back to Cleveland, you should go see it.

But if you want to know what the invention is -- spoiler alert! -- click here.

Film Festival: Try It, You'll Like It

Remember when you discovered something slightly exotic, extremely interesting and great fun, but when you attemped to introduce this new passion to friends they looked at you as if you were unstable? (Sushi, let’s say.) You wait until the next time you meet, and revisit the subject with another plea. Finally, the person attempts to shut you up by mumbling that they might give it a try. But they don’t. So you shrug and give up.

Unfortunately, I continue to pester. This annoying persistence is a possible explanation for my incredibly shrinking list of friends on MySpace. Nevertheless, six years after my original journey to the Cleveland International Film Festival, some of you must be listening: Attendance was at a near record last year despite a blizzard and water main break.
But if you're still a holdout, here are four good reasons to go (besides I might stop pestering you).

Free and convenient parking. Park your car below Tower City; get your ticket validated at the Film Fest desk and drive out anytime you want. Give me free, convenient, downtown parking, and I will watch slush melt, a Yoko Ono concert or a lecture on fruit fly migration. Make me pay to park and I will not even meet Halle Berry for coffee.

It’s an adventure.
When you attend films such as “The Wedding Crashers” or “Die Hard 9,” you know what you're getting after the 20 minutes of trailers. You likely have seen the majority of this feature in previous promos. It is possible you could write this movie. However, when the lights go down on “Serbian Franco Mondo La Faollies de Garu” you will be surprised. Often the surprise will be positive, occasionally the very opposite, but you will exit the theater feeling like a sophisticated scamp.

Foreign films don't include LeBron. Film Festival movies rarely have the staples of traditional American cinema: beautiful, recognizable actors. Modern movies are edited to allow a maximum of .07 seconds per scene, lest the viewer lose attention. Many movies come with a loud soundtracks that cue the viewer what to feel with the subtlety of a LeBron James dunk. In most festival films, you find performers so physically normal that you leave feeling like Brangelina. You will see homes and countries that will inspire you to kiss your front door. (You might even see something from your homeland, since the festival has a strong selection of films from Central and Eastern Europe.) The pacing will be slower, the packaging less slick. One caveat: You may be required to read and to think, impediments to some film fans.

It’s easy. Look on the Web site and select a film (there are 140 features and 177 shorts, including eight films by or about Clevelanders). Drive (or take the RTA) to Tower City, park your car, report to the Film Fest desk for the blessed parking ticket validation ceremony. Get your movie ticket. Go to movie. Repeat as necessary.
And you didn’t even have to eat raw fish.
— Bob Carson

(Check out our blog daily for previews of upcoming films playing at the 33rd Cleveland International Film Festival.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Beyond Popcorn

If you like movies- and most of us do- then you’ll be downtown along with me and thousands of others, as often as possible during the 33rd Cleveland International Film Festival , March 19-29. Among the many films I want to see this year, there are a few that attract me because food plays a supporting or a starring role: Apron Strings, Chefs Special, The Garden, Poly Cultures: Food Where We Live, and HomeGrown: The 21st Century Farm.

And while I know from years past that stuffing myself with images and ideas is truely satisfying, I realize that I will also need more traditional forms of sustenance too- the kind that comes in a bowl, a plate, and a glass. The most practical solution is to visit restaurants that are in and around Tower City. That way I leave the car parked, walk to and from my dining destination- getting a much needed between movie stretch- and do not waste precious time that could be better spent in a darkened theater.

The Festival folk have partnered up with a few places that are offering discounts. Information about those can be found here . I did a little research of my own and came up with some other appetizing deals. Mortons celebrating the start of its 20th year in town is offering specially priced beer, wine, cocktails in lounge along with upscale and make your mouth water $ 5Bar Bites like petite filet mignon sandwiches; and crab, spinach and artichoke dip. Available 5:30-7 pm, and 9 PM to closing, every day, along with the original prime sirloin burger that made them famous 30 years ago for just $15.

At Muse in The Ritz Carlton, there’s a prix fixe Independent Film Industry menu from 5:30-7:30 pm. $28 gets you a salad, dessert and one of four entrees. I’m a fan of Chef Timothy Maxin and so I know the food will be a treat. Lola has $30, three course Happy Hour special too and the prospects for deliciousness are also a sure thing.

Monday, March 16, 2009


OK, so I know it's been a year since I wrote about going car-free in Cleveland. Since I wrote the story, so many people ask: Sell your car yet?

Finally, I can say yes.

As of this weekend, I will be relying on RTA and CityWheels to cart me around.

Letting go of my car keys this time feels nothing like the last time. I have been a regular rider of the bus and Rapid for more than a year. I know it can be done. And I think it will work in my lifestyle. I may opt to pick up a beater eventually, but I'm hoping I can make car-free work for me long-term. It can be done in Cleveland.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Singles Update: Coming Together

Our February cover girl Melissa Mack wanted to meet all the other sexy singles we selected for our annual issue so she organized a get-together at the House of Blues' Foundation Room last night for everyone (and let us tag along to take in all the action). 

Twelve of the 20 singles showed up anxious to learn a little bit about each other, pose for some pics (see above) and get the scoop on their dating lives (Melissa Barber revealed that she has been on a few dates with a guy she used to ride the school bus with when she was 14). 

There was even a little grumbling about how some of their photo shoots and articles turned out (it's okay, we can take the criticism). Michael Goulis expressed some uncertainty for our picture selection of him in a wife-beater (hey, we wanted to show off his cool tattoos!) and Mike Minnick was saddened by the fact that he was the last single featured in the magazine. 

Kathryn Eyring (the self-proclaimed grandma of the group) brought an issue of the magazine for everyone to autograph as they all shared a meal, laughs and emails to stay updated on how everyone is doing with being single (or not) in Cleveland.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

PD to close? Not so fast

Maybe you saw the prediction that the Plain Dealer will close or go digital-only. It swept across Cleveland blogs and inboxes this week, and the PD responded with this article, calling the prediction "baseless."

The prediction seems pretty weak. It's speculation based on two facts: 1) Cleveland is struggling economically. 2) The chain that owns the PD threatened to close its paper in Newark, but backed off.

I'll concede the first point. But the Newark Star-Ledger was on track to lose $40 million last year. The PD is still in the black, editor Susan Goldberg said at her City Club talk last month.

However, the PD's response is also weak. Most of it was spent pointing out that the doomsday prediction comes from the financial blog 24/7 Wall St., not Time, though the article appears on because of an online partnership.

The comments from Publisher Terry Egger (pictured) on the paper's health did not reassure me much (emphasis mine):

Egger said that newspapers are having financial difficulties, but The Plain Dealer made money in 2008. Though it laid off a significant number of employees late last year, Egger said, the paper budgeted to make money in 2009.

Egger said The Plain Dealer and its parent corporation, Advance Publications, remain committed to producing news both in print and online. "Every plan we have for the immediate future is to make that work," he said.

I doubt the PD will fold or go all-digital. It'll just lay off more employees if goes into the red. But the doomsday prediction reminded me of a less drastic but still alarming option.

The Detroit News -- another paper on 24/7's doomsday list -- and Detroit Free Press are cutting back on home delivery, going down to only three days a week starting this spring.

Some days of a newspaper attract way more ads than others. Sunday papers are huge, while Monday and Tuesday papers are tiny. The Detroit papers are going to deliver only the lucrative editions, and send readers online or to newsstands for 32-page mini-papers the other four days a week.

I couldn't help but notice that Egger's denial was published in a Tuesday print edition that included a 6-page A section and 6-page B section. If ad sales keep falling, there is not much left to cut on Tuesdays.

I don't want to predict that the Plain Dealer will eventually adopt Detroit's strategy. It seems like a great way to alienate your core audience (the read-my-paper-with-breakfast crowd), and there is plenty of news to report on your average Tuesday. But if the paper's ad base keeps shrinking, I have to imagine they're at least going to look at the Detroit model.

Update: This New York Times article considers the possibility that some cities might soon be left without a newspaper, but it doesn't name names.

Detroit on My Mind

I still have flashbacks to the corned beef hash I ate at Russell Street Deli in Detroit more than a month ago that make my mouth water. It was perfect- a sublime mishmash of browned potatoes, sautéed onions, tender bits of corned beef, and farm fresh Michigan eggs. I stumbled on the place, which wasn’t on my itinerary, while exploring the city on assignment for Cleveland Magazine. It was a friendly little spot with a hippie ambience. Everyone’s seated at communal tables and my breakfast choice earned a “right on” from the server. This was one stop I didn’t have space to write about in Cruisin’ for Cuisine that appears in this month’s issue of the magazine.

There were lots more wonderful things about the trip that I would have liked to spotlight: the vendors at Eastern Market selling everything from grass fed beef and organic vegetables to hand dipped chocolates and homemade pies; a terrific Belgian tripple bock beer called Final Absolution from a Dragon Mead, a local brewery and the city’s first new one since Prohibition, that I sampled; and the appeal of Bellinis and Bloody Mary’s for brunch at Detroit’s Breakfast House and Grill, a restaurant notable for attracting a Sunday morning crowd that’s white, black, old, young, and downright toddling. I would have liked to give accolades to Executive Chef Jeff Rose who is a big part of why Symon’s restaurant Roast is able to put such great food on the table whether Michael’s there or not. The two met when Rose was cooking for Tribute, a highly acclaimed Detroit dining icon.

And I could have gone on for pages and pages about my tasting time at Goldfish Tea where I sat and sipped seven different leafy brews for two hours. I learned that the first steeping of green tea removes almost all the caffeine and any impurities so it is generally discarded. The leaves ca-and should- be used over and over again to brew multiple pots, each steeping producing its own distinctive flavor. Store owners Jim and Janice Girling have an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, acquired when they lived in China, that they’re happy to share with anyone who asks. I lusted after the the yi shing clay pots they stock, made the same way for thousands of years, a tea travel mug that comes with a brewing basket, and bags of rare aged loose leaf pu’er teas that are as flavorful and nuanced as good wine.

All this just a couple of hours west of Cleveland on I-90. Go see it for yourself. Find places to stay and more things to do at

Friday, March 6, 2009

Looking for a fish fry tonight?

We have put together, quite possibly, Northeast Ohio's most comprehensive fish fry database here. Use it to find the perfect fish fry for you.

You, our readers, have the ability to comment on any individual fish fry to let readers know if it's worth checking out. We also plotted all those fries on a map, so you can find one in your neighborhood. And if we missed a good Cleveland area fry, let us know by clicking here and we'll add it to our list.

In our March issue, we gave our picks for the best baker's dozen of fish fries in the region with write ups that will make you salivate. So go eat and come back to tell us how it was. You can also read about one of Cleveland's first (and best) fries.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Where's the Love?

We're afraid Seven Hills Mayor David Bentkowski doesn't like us very much. And he is especially dipleased with our June Rating the Suburbs issue.

"Our gripe wasn't a bunch of whiny mayors worrying about their suburban rankings," he told Jimmy Malone and John Lanigan on WMJI yesterday morning. "We don't need some gimmick publication to tell us that Seven Hills is a great place to live."

(Hey, we haven't pulled out any gimmicks since ... oh, wait, we do have something planned for April. But you'll have to wait for that. In the meantime ...)

"Our biggest gripe ... was the fact that this is a waste of taxpayer money," Bentkowski continued. "My biggest gripe was every time they do their little survey every year they send a public records request that we have to answer to city hall. I have better things to do than have my chief of police do an exhaustive research survey for the benefit of Cleveland Magazine."

Sure, I could argue that Rating the Suburbs is an incredible reader service that's a valuable starting point for anyone looking to buy a home in Northeast Ohio or that our survey is actually not that time consuming or that it's not even a public records request at all. This is, which was sent over yesterday.)

But why argue. Even if he's not fond of us, we loved — seriously,
loved — the mayor's interview. (Kudos to Jimmy & John for the Know Your Mayor segments. They're awesome.) In it, we learned that the mayor will never give another dime to the University of Toledo, his alma mater, because it's offering free tuition to public school students in Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo. ("Government shouldn't be giving free college to people," he argued.)

We also learned that he replaced Drew Carey as a server at the Denny's on Rockside; he has a 9-foot pool in his home but doesn't know how to swim ("It's a Polish thing," he explained); he went to 52 different charity events in 52 weeks; he's probably gossiped about more online than any other official in Northeast Ohio; and there are a ton of women in Seven Hills who love him, and their names are Agnes, Betty, Ethel and Myrtle (they enjoy playing bingo, watching Matlock
and making pierogi).

Now, we love all those things, too. So go ahead, add us to your list of admirers.

(Listen to the entire interview here.)

Digging Up Some Dinner

Despite what the temperatures suggest, spring is not far away. And for those of us who like to muck around in the dirt, that means it's time to think about gardening. According to what I’ve been reading more and more Americans are getting interested in devoting time and ground to grow food- 7 million more households in 2009 than in 2008 says a poll by the National Gardening Association. Confirming the trend an article in USA Today last week reported a double digit increase in sales for the country’s largest seed retailers.

Economic pressures and the need many are feeling to cut costs are a big part of what’s spurring the desire to plant things that will go from soil to plate. Coupled with the health and environmental benefits of eating fresh, locally grown food rather than stuff transported from thousands of miles away- and what could be more local than your own backyard- it’s an idea with no downside. There’s serious talk at my house about roto-tilling most of our lawn to turn it into a little piece of urban farmland.

But not everyone has the place, time, or physical ability to grow tomatoes and zucchini. Some visionary folks in our community want to help. Peter McDermott of Entrepreneurs for Sustainability and the founder of a social networking site for people interested in building a viable, enduring regional food system, has created a matchmaking service that connects people with a plot of unused land and those who are willing and able to make it productive. At you can post “space to share” or “looking for space listings” and click on map to find out where gardening opportunities are located. The terms of the arrangement - whether money changes hands or bounty is shared by land owner and grower, and other practical details- are totally up to the participants. There’s not much activity there- yet because the venture is brand new and word is just starting to spread. But it’s a very exciting idea with huge potential. Check it out and tell everyone you know to do the same.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra increasing time in Miami?

The Cleveland Orchestra plans to increase its efforts in Miami, and that could eventually result in more time spent in South Florida.

The Musical Arts Association of Miami, the organization that handles the Orchestra's Miami residency, indicated they hope to "materially increase" the amount of time spent in Miami.

Musical Arts Association spokeswoman Ana Papakhian says the short-term goal is to increase the activities of the orchestra members during the three weeks a year already spent in Miami. That can already be evidenced by the Miami City Ballet collaboration and increased outreach programs to schools. (Read our January story about the collaboration with the Miami City Ballet).

The orchestra will consider adding more time in Miami as well, but that would happen, at earliest, two years from now, Papakhian says.


In the March 2009 issue of Cleveland Magazine, you can also read about a a recent interview that Musical Arts Association of Miami chairman Daniel Lewis did with the national radio show Marketplace. (In it, Lewis recalls asking "if they moved orchestras like they move baseball franchises.") Read our original story about the Cleveland Orchestra's Miami residency here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you

Check out this old-school episode of Big Chuck and Little John of a pizza eating contest between Lakota, the pizza-eating bear, and Coondog O'Karma.

Some might say this is cruel. I would agree: Not even a bear stands a chance against Coondog.