Geneva Anderson digs into art

last call: this weekend’s 5th Annual Artisan Cheese Festival is sold-out except for Sunday’s all day marketplace

For a growing number of fine cheese lovers who are traveling to cheese gatherings across the country, this weekend’s 5th Annual California Artisan Cheese Festival (March 25-28, 2011), in Petaluma, holds the promise of glorious immersion in cheese.  From new small-batch cheeses to those that have already garnered international recognition, the spotlight is on the vibrant hues, bold aromas, and surprising flavors that make our region’s cheeses so unique, the local farmers who produce them and the industry that has emerged to promote them.  But unless you’ve already registered, this 3 day extravaganza Friday through Sunday (March 25-28, 2011) at Petaluma’s Sheraton Hotel is completely sold out, except for the Sunday’s big tent Artisan Cheese Marketplace from 11 AM to 4 PM. 

This year’s festival is going to be both enlightening and entertaining. (Full Schedule)  Friday’s day-long farm tours to Strauss Family Creamery, Toluma Farms, The Fork at Point Reyes, and Bellweather Farms sold out almost as soon as they were posted.  The opportunity to get the low-down on what makes our area’s cheese so special right from the farmers who produce it was too good to pass up, even at $145.  A number of Saturday’s 14 seminars covering all topics cheese by leading experts in the field sold out well over a month ago too.   Subjects range from making cheese (what does it actually take to become a cheese maker? a primer on essential molds, a lesson in curd stretching) to the politics of cheese (the transhumance movement, proposed legislation that seeks to regulate raw milk cheeses) to the nuances of evaluating cheese.  There are fabulous opportunities to eat some revamped classics too, like mac and cheese, and to try some new “hidden cheeses of California.”   You’ll learn that most of California’s elite cheeses don’t venture far from home and we in Petaluma are smack dab in cheese paradise for both producing and consuming.  

Capricious–its name evokes play and its taste sweet perfection. A very ungoaty goat cheese, Capricious is aged and then hand-rolled in old European style and its memorable sweetness is attributed to the very high quality goat’s milk that our region is known for. Jim and Donna Pacheco, Pacheco Family Dairy, Petaluma. Best in Show, American Cheese Society 2002 and named one of Saveur magazine’s 50 favorite cheeses in the U.S. 2005. Photo: Geneva Anderson

On Sunday, you can still meet over 73 artisan producers and try the finest local cheese, gourmet accompaniments, and wine and beer.  Throughout the day, acclaimed chefs Mary Karlin, Kristine Kidd, Boris Portnoy and Jacquelyn Buchanan will each be demonstrating an original recipe with artisan cheese and Clark Wolf will be both mc’ing and signing his own best-seller American Cheeses.  

$45 ticket includes Sunday admission, all sampling, access to chef demos and author book signings, a festival wine glass and an insulated cheese tote bag to hold your precious purchases. Tickets will be sold online through Friday evening and then 100 will be made available on a first come-first served basis at the door on Sunday, starting at 11AM.  There is no wait list for any of the sold-out events.  All events on Friday and Saturday are already sold out.

Book Signings on Sunday:

11:30 a.m. Gordon Edgar & Sasha Davies : Gordon Edgar Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge (2010) Sasha Davies West Coast Cheeses (2010)

12:30 p.m. Laura Werlin  (launching her fifth book at the festival Grilled Cheese, Please! 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes (2011) , and author of The New American Cheese Profiles of America’s Great Cheesemakers and Recipes for Cooking with Cheese, The All American Cheese and Wine Book: Pairings, Profiles and Recipe, Great Grilled Cheese 50 Recipes for Stovetop, Grill, and Sandwich Maker, Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials An Insider’s Guide to Buying and Serving Cheese

Point Reyes Cheese Company’s TOMA is an all-natural, semi hard, farmstead cheese made from pasteurized cows’ milk produced by the Giacomini family on their 3rd generation West Marin dairy farm. Introduced in 2010 as an alternative to their rockstar, Point Reyes Original Blue, TOMA became an instant hit too. Once you try a slice of TOMA, with its creamy texture, buttery flavor and unforgettable grassy-tangy finish, there’s no turning back…it’s a staple you won’t want to do without. Photo: Geneva Anderson

1:00 p.m. Maggie Foard   Goat Cheese (2008)

1:30 p.m. Mary Karlin Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques & Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses (2011), Wood-Fired Cooking: Techniques and Recipes for the Grill, Backyard Oven, Fireplace, and Campfire (2009)

2:00 p.m. Lenny Rice & Clark Wolf  Lenny Rice: Fondue (2007),  Clark Wolf: American Cheeses: The Best Regional, Artisan, and Farmhouse Cheeses, Who Makes Them, and Where to Find Them (2008)

2:30 p.m. Kristine Kidd, Weeknight Fresh + Fast (2011) Kristine Kidd has written a number of books for Williams Sonoma Kitchen Library.

3:00 p.m. Andrea Mugnaini The Art of Wood-Fired Cooking(2010)  Anna Mugnaini and the Mugnaini crew will be baking wood fired pizzas in a portable pizza oven on working the Pizza Patio on Sunday too. Enjoy artisan cheese and fresh wood fired pizza?

Cheese Wiz: in researching the various symposiums associated with the conference, I learned

  • The first cheese was made over 4000 years ago by nomadic peoples. It is believed that someone tried to store or transport fresh milk in a water bag made from an animal stomach. Later, when the milk was needed, the first cheese was discovered (the rennet in the lining of the bag would have caused the milk to separate into curds and whey).
  • Asian travelers likely brought cheese production to Europe where cheesemaking flourished among monks during the Middle Ages.
  • In 1620, cheese was on the Mayflower when the Pilgrims journeyed to America.
  • Spanish priests first made cheese from the milk of mission livestock in the early 1800s.  Later, during the Gold Rush, European immigrants built dairies on the Point Reyes peninsula to supply butter and cheese to gold miners in San Francisco.
  • Sonoma and Marin counties—the Normandy of Northern California—are home to the largest concentration of artisan cheesemakers in California, if not the country.  Our unique foggy, grassy terrain has roughly 22,000 acres of land dedicated to making cheese and fermented milk products. To celebrate this and educate, the Marin Economic Forum (MEF) just introduced the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail map [PDF], the first-ever map to local artisan cheesemakers.

 21 Artisan Cheese Producers will participate Sunday:

Achadinha Cheese Co.
Beehive Cheese Co.
Bellwether Farms
Bohemian Creamery
Central Coast Creamery
Cowgirl Creamery
Cypress Grove Chevre
Epicurean Connection
Fiscalini Farmstead Cheese
Laura Chenel’s Chevre
Mt. Townsend Creamery

Marin French Cheese
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.
Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery
Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.
Shamrock Artisan Cheese
Sierra Nevada Cheese Co.
Tumalo Farms, Bend, OR
Valley Ford Cheese Co.
Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese
Winchester Cheese

March 24, 2011 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smart marketing: the de Young Museum’s foray into pay-per-view–hook ‘em by streaming a sold-out Balenciaga Symposium and later they will visit

Cristóbal Balenciaga, Cocktail hat of ivory silk satin, 1953. Originally published in Vogue, October 15, 1953. Photo: John Rawlings.

This Saturday, for the first time ever, viewers will be able to take in a long sold-out Balenciaga symposium at San Francisco’s de Young Museum without leaving their homes.  The museum is streaming the Balenciaga and Spain Symposium live at 1 p.m. and for $10 viewers can watch the simulcast on Fora.TV and access it as many times as they want until July 4, when the exhibition closes.  The move to pay-per-view makes good business sense for the museum, currently the 5th most highly attended museum in the country and known for its progressive and immensely popular shows.  

“Pay per view is the greatest way to make our collections and special exhibitions available and accessible to as many people as possible and that’s what we’re all about—education and illumination,” said John Buchanan, director FAMSF.  “We have these scholars and resources here and sharing the word in this streaming fashion geometrically multiples our audience and it will get people to come in and see the real thing.  Streaming is a logical and profitable step.”  For those of us who live in the extended Bay Area, this appetite whetter may just the enticement we need to cross the bridge for culture.  For those more distant, it puts the show and the museum high on to-do lists.  Win-win.

Museums are the newest entrants to the streaming and HD-live craze that has paid off big for the Metropolitan Opera which began simulcasting six of its operas in 2007 in select movie theatres across the country and hit pay dirt.  As Peter Gelb, the company’s managing director, stated in the New York Times (May 17, 2007) the number of people who attended Met Live performances during the first season of the program, 324,000 at $18 a piece, led him to believe that the audience for the second year of the program would reach 800,000 and actually match the audience attending the two hundred plus performances in the actual Met auditorium.  He called the simulcasts “a powerful marketing tool.”   In 2010, Gelb reported that, for 2010, 2.4 million people in 1,500 theatres in 46 countries bought tickets to the series for a gross of $47 million.  Half of that went to expenses, but still left a hefty and unheard of profit.  Gelb also reported that the series has had an enormous impact on donations, adding almost 7,000 donors to the list of Met contributors in recent seasons.  

“Embracing new technology is something we’re very proud,” said Buchanan.  “When images from museum first went online, people in the museum world were saying that people would stop coming to museums.  In fact, that proved very false and it lured people in to the museums.  This is going to have the same impact.”     

Hamish Bowles, European editor at large, Vogue, and guest curator of Balenciaga and Spain is participating in the de Young's first live streaming of a symposium this Saturday. Photo by Arthur Elgort.

For museum-goers and even those unfamiliar with the museum world, a simulcast featuring the trend-setting and enormously popular Vogue editor Hamish Bowles talking about Balenciaga might just take off big.  Bowles guest curated  Balenciaga and Spain and has already made a number of media appearances since he arrived in the Bay Area last week.  The museum’s auditorium can seat an audience of 270 and the event sold out within an hour reported the FAMSF’s communications department.  The option immediately makes the event accessible to an unlimited audience who can access the event at their leisure.   The de Young Museum is already one of the highest profile museums in the country.  Since it’s re-do six years ago, the latest statistics, current to 2010, show that it has attracted over 8 million visitors, and The Art Newspaper has ranked it as the 5th most highly attended museum in the country.  Pay per view could bolster its popularity, especially if the programming has the popular (and non-academic) appeal of fashion. 

Under the helm of FAMSF Director John Buchanan and FAMSF Board Chair De De (Diane) Wilsey, the de Young Museum has expanded its offerings to  a number of tremendously popular shows addressing fashion–Nan Kempner: American Chic (2007), Vivien Westwood: 36 Years in Fashion (2007),  Yves Saint Laurent (2008).  Its sister institution, the Legion of Honor, has done the same and is currently offering Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave through June 5, 2011.  “I firmly believe that if you buy the best that money can buy and you show the best there is to show, people will come,” said De De Wilsey.  “Fashion and art are completely intertwined and it’s been my mission to show people the very best art.  The very best designers are true artists.”

Saturday's live streamed symposium will discuss Spanish influences on Balenciaga such as painter Diego Velazquez. His portrait of the Infanta Maria-Margarita, daughter of Felipe IV, King of Spain inspired Balenciaga's famous Infanta dress. Photo: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY.

Saturday’s symposium will examine the underlying themes in Balenciaga and Spain which kicks off with a gala on Thursday and opens to the public this Saturday and runs through July 4, 2011.  The highly anticipated exhibition focuses on the remarkable oeuvre of Spanish haute couture designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.  His now iconic “balloon” skirt, “baby doll” and “sack” dresses, the 7/8-length “bracelet sleeve,” and the “dropped waist” created a new silhouette for women.  Born in 1895 in a remote fishing village in Spain, Balenciaga learned sewing and tailoring at his mother’s knee.  From this humble start, the persistent young man, opened his own fashion house in Paris in 1937 where he was greeted with immediate success.  In the years following World War II, he became one of the most influential haute couture fashion designers.   Balenciaga was a sculptor with a strong and unique vision who worked with space, the female body and fabric.  Balenciaga and Spain features nearly 120 haute couture garments, hats, and headdresses designed by Balenciaga, some of which have never been seen before.  This exhibition, conceived by American fashion designer Oscar de la Renta for a show last fall at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute in New York, will be nearly twice as large at the de Young  and it includes 17 pieces from the private collection of Hamish Bowles.   The exhibition explores Balenciaga’s expansive creativity and is the first to focus on the impact of Spain’s art, bullfighting, dance, regional costume, and the pageantry of the royal court and religious ceremonies.  Pieces were selected from Balenciaga’s archives in France, private collections, the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as from the FAMSF’s immense collection of over 12,000 textiles.

Symposium Speakers: 

Hamish Bowles, “Balenciaga and Spain: Cristóbal Balenciaga and the Power of the Spanish Identity”  Hamish Bowles, fashion journalist, is the European editor at large for the American edition of Vogue. A graduate of the Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design, Bowles worked as a fashion editor and style director for Harpers and Queen from 1984 until 1992 and then joined Vogue in 1992.

Balenciaga’s sketch for his "Infanta" evening dress clearly shows the influence of Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of the Infanta Maria-Margarita (circa 1665); from Vogue Magazine (September 15, 1939). Carl Erickson/Conde Nast Archive; © Conde Nast.

Bowles is author and co-author of several books including Vogue Living: Houses, Gardens, People; Philip Treacy: “When I Met Isabella”; and Carolina Herrera: Portrait of a Fashion Icon.  He also served as curator for the landmark exhibition Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years and as guest curator for Balenciaga and Spain.

Miren Arzalluz, “Cristóbal Balenciaga. The Making of the Master (1895–1936)”
Miren Arzalluz studied History at the University of Deusto (Spain) and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics before specializing in the history of dress and fashion at the Courtauld Institute of Art. After working in various British museums, such as the V&A and Kensington Palace, she became curator at the Balenciaga Foundation in 2007. Her research covers the history of fashionable dress on the 20th century with particular emphasis on the life and work of Balenciaga. She has recently published the book Cristóbal Balenciaga. La Forja del Maestro (1895–1936), which focuses on the life and professional development of Balenciaga before establishing his haute couture house in Paris, and she is currently working on the permanent exhibition and catalogue of the new Balenciaga Museum project in Getaria, the couturier´s hometown.

Lourdes Font, “Austere Splendor: Balenciaga’s Legacy of Spanish Court Costume”
This talk is a survey of costume at the Spanish court from the late 15th c. to the late 18th c. as seen in royal and aristocratic portraits,  making connections with surviving garments and accessories and tracing the influence of this legacy on Balenciaga’s designs.
Lourdes Font is associate professor in the department of History of Art and in the M.A. program for Fashion and Textile Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Among her recent publications are Fashion and Visual Art.  Font is the co-editor of and contributor to the Grove Dictionary of Art Online. She has also contributed articles and essays to West 86: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s exhibition catalogue Fashion in Colors, and to Fashion Theory.

Balenciaga's "Infanta" evening dress; 1939. Photograph by George Hoyningen-Huene. © R.J. Horst. Courtesy Staley/Wise Gallery, NYC.

Pamela Golbin, “Balenciaga’s Designs and Development (1937–1968)”
Pamela Goblin, chief curator of the Musée de la Mode et du Textile at the Louvre in Paris, is an internationally renowned figure in the fashion industry with extensive historical knowledge of cultural and design issues. She is a leading expert in contemporary fashion and has organized landmark exhibitions worldwide. Ms. Golbin has organized more than fifteen exhibitions, including major retrospectives on iconic fashions legends such as Balenciaga and Valentino. Her latest exhibition was an award-winning retrospective of Madeleine Vionnet.

To sign up for the Balenciaga and Spain symposium, click here and you will be directed to the’s webpage.  The pay-per-view symposium streams live this saturday at 1 PM and is available for unlimited viewing until the exhibition closes.

Details: The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.  Admission to Balenciaga and Spain is $25 adults and free for members and children 5 and under.  There is a $5 discount for purchasing tickets in advance.  Ticket includes admission to the special exhibition Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico through May 8, 2011. 

For a complete listing of the numerous special events associated with the exhibition visit its webpage Balenciaga and Spain.

March 23, 2011 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Pinter’s “The Homecoming” at San Francisco’s A.C.T. is still pathologically disturbing after 47 years, runs through March 27, 2011


Written in 1964, Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming was revolutionary in its exploration of the dark and dysfunctional side of family and marriage.  The original Broadway production won the 1967 Tony Award for Best Play and its 40th anniversary Broadway production at the Cort Theatre was nominated for a 2008 Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Play.”   Now at San Francisco’s A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theatre), The Homecoming is a must-see for its superb acting, anchored by A.C.T. core actors René Augesen as Ruth and Jack Willis as Max the family patriarch.  And while it’s no longer the cutting- edge provocateur it once was, it is one of the most profoundly disturbing and exceptional portraits of a family to be found.  That’s because in the play’s near half decade of existence, our society has evolved to the point where we can recognize bits of ourselves in these wounded and intriguing characters and admit they embody a primal darkness that lies in all of us.  We’ve almost caught up with Pinter.

Lenny (Andrew Polk) puts on an aggressive front for his brother’s wife, Ruth (A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen). Photo by Kevin Berne

The Homecoming is the story of a long absent son, Teddy (Anthony Fusco) who shows up in the middle of the night at his family home in North London with his wife, Ruth (René Augesen).  Teddy, a philosophy professor in the Midwest, seems to have little in common with the working-class relatives he left behind: Max, his father, (a butcher)(Jack Willis) and his younger brother Sam (a driver)(Kenneth Walsh) and Max’s two grown sons who still live at home, Lenny (pimp)(Andrew Polk) and Joey, the youngest (a boxer)(Adam O’Byrne).  They are all what a therapist might call trigger happy–constantly warring, trying to one up each other as they act out an ingrained pattern of lobbing hurtful responses back and forth.  Anything and everything is up for grabs—they fight over a cheese roll as passionately as they discuss philosophy, constantly vying for power.  As soon as Ruth enters the picture, they all compete for her attention. 

In Harold Pinter's The Homecoming at A.C.T. though March 27, 2011, Max (A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis, left) and his sons, Joey (Adam O’Byrne, second from right) and Lenny (Andrew Polk, right), have unexpected plans for Ruth (A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen). Photo by Kevin Berne.

By the second act, Ruth, who was initially quiet, grows misogynistically pathological and cranks her own game into high gear, ultimately calling the shots in the family.  Augesen laces every word and gesture with ambiguity, hauntingly alluding to Ruth sexual past.  It’s a curious experience to watch a family implode before your eyes and at the same time to be wondering what it would be like to be any of them, as repulsive as each of them are. 

Acclaimed theatrical designer Daniel Ostling’s stage set, with its inward tilted walls, vertigo-inducing wooden staircase and stark lighting enhances the feeling of suffocating oppression within the family.  Thick clouds of fragrant cigar smoke and evocative jazz frame many of the conversations while Alex Jeager’s costumes for Ruth, particularly a form-fitting red silk dress, aid her in stealing power from right under the noses of these men.

Details: The Homecoming plays at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, through March 27, 2011. Tickets ($10-$85) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at A.C.T. online box office.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The wait for a commercial electric car is over – the first Nissan Leaf is rolling in Sonoma County and I’m driving it

ARThound is now all-electric with the Nissan Leaf and it feels great. We were the first customers to receive the Leaf in Sonoma County through Northbay Nissan in Petaluma.

After what seems like forever, our long-awaited all electric Nissan Leaf has arrived and it’s impossible to write objectively about how good it feels to be off oil and to be the first customers in Sonoma County to actually receive their Leaf.  The Leaf is part of our strategy, several years in the making, to go renewable through solar and to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.  Like many who live in Northern, CA, we feel our area is ripe for EV adoption and are proud that we will help lead the revolution.  Actually, we were one of those 16,300 early enthusiasts who reserved a Leaf last summer in anticipation of its December 2010 launch–delayed several times.   The first Leaf actually did arrive at Petaluma’s  Northbay Nissan in December but left immediately with its new owner in Silicon Valley.  So, when we got the call last Thursday, that we would be the first in Sonoma County to take delivery of our Leaf, we could hardly believe it.  

The Nissan Leaf is a zero emission vehicle with a caveat—the car itself is zero emission when charged from solar PV systems but when charged from PG&E’s electrical power (the major supplier here in Northern, CA), it’s slightly better than a Toyota Prius (the leading hybrid) in terms of its overall (car plus electrical generation) emissions.  Our Nissan Leaf SL is zero emission because we are charging it from the sun. 

Commercial all electric vehicles  (EVs) have been around for over 10 years now, but they always seemed to suffer from being impractical, weird, expensive, or downright ugly.  General Motors EV1 elevated our consciousness but was killed by Big Oil.  Chris Paine’s marvelous movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” tells the story unflinchingly.  Other EVs soon followed suit but were fatally weird or downright goofy looking–the Mitsubishi iMiEV, BMW’s Mini E, Nissan’s EV-02, Toyota’s FT-EV II, to name a few. The stunning Tesla Roadster broke onto the scene in 2008 as the first truly commercial EV but was affordable only by the wealthy starting with an MSRP over $100,000 for a two seat sports car. 

EV’s:  a significant component in saving our planet

When President Obama entered office, he appointed Steven Chu as Energy Secretary.  Both Obama and Chu are ardent believers in the dangers of climate change and the economic crisis that U.S. and global addiction to oil will eventually trigger.  They created an extremely favorable environment for the electric car and directed the Department of Energy to make it happen. When Nissan received a $1.4 billion loan to build a plant in Tennessee to manufacture the Leaf, the first very affordable and attractive commercial EV was on its way.  

The Leaf and other reliable and affordable EV’s are essential in the fight against global warming which will drive catastrophic climate change over the next 50-100 years.  Simply stated, global warming is driven primarily by the CO2 Green House Gas that is released by our burning of fossil fuels, like gasoline. Automobiles and other motor vehicles are the largest offenders in releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. NASA scientist Dr. Jim Hansen’s well-known oft-quoted publications on the implications of climate change are harrowing. 

EV’s are crucial to the plan for eliminating our CO2 emissions because fossil fuel burning transportation is the largest contributor to these emissions. Generating electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, tidal and hydroelectric combined with zero emission EV’s can eliminate the automobile’s contribution in a straightforward manner. This formula also eliminates our addiction to oil for our automobiles thereby reducing the economic risk of oil’s price or availability.

The US economy and national security are at severe risk due to our addiction to foreign oil.  The US does not have enough oil reserves to make a difference should supply be jeopardized.  The planet itself is approaching “peak oil,” where Earth’s maximum reserves and production of oil hit an upper limit, or peak, and then begin declining.  Just as demand for oil is starting to accelerate rapidly in China, India and the developing world, oil’s availability is about to peak and then will decline.  If we, as a planet, don’t reduce our consumption of oil, the CO2 emitted from automobiles burning gasoline will accelerate global warming.  Eventually, we will see an economic crisis making the 1974 oil embargo look like peanuts and from that all sorts of disasters will follow suit as oil is so integral and deeply woven into the fabric of our economy.

Getting off PG&E and on Solar—EV’s go hand in hand with Solar PV Systems which we also have

In addition to purchasing a Nissan Leaf, two years ago we designed and built a 12.6 kWatt solar PV system that creates all our electricity from sunlight.  This is bringing our home to nearly CO2 neutral.   Our electricity will be free when our system finishes paying for itself in 1 ½ years from saved utility bills and we have created a model we are proud of— getting off of fossil fuel generated electricity.  If everyone could buy and install an EV and a solar PV system, our planet would be safe from the unthinkable impacts of global warming on climate Change and the coming economic crisis due to peaking oil supplies.

 Nissan Leaf: pricing

That’s the back story to our Leaf purchase.  After paying $99 and signing up for the Leaf months ago online, and waiting through numerous delays, we took delivery last Thursday from Petaluma’s Northbay Nissan.  Besides loving the car, I couldn’t believe it cost just over $20,000 after incentives, which is a ridiculously low price for a new car of any quality.  With an MSRP at $32,780, California will give you a $5000 rebate check immediately and the IRS will give you a $7500 tax credit next April 15,  leaving the final price at $20,280, plus tax and license.  A deal!   You can visit the Leaf site to appreciate what they offer.  We bought ours from Ron Coury at North Bay Nissan in Petaluma which has become the Leaf sales leader and popular with customers from all over CA due to its extremely competitive pricing.

Interior leg and storage room

Upon first glance, the Leaf appears quite small.  When I jumped inside, I was shocked at how roomy it is and at its sophisticated dashboard and front-end technology.  Both the front and rear seats are comfortable for me at 5’10” with long legs (36’ inseam), as well as offering overall reasonable visibility.  The front and rear doors make it easy to enter and the hatchback makes this little car seem almost like a mini-SUV.  The rear seats fold forward and an optional rear cargo compartment cover ($190.00) creates a nearly flat storage area from the front seats to the hatch door, just perfect for a giant red hound.  Of course, the fabric seats available only in a dove gray color will be a HUGE problem for pet owners as these just grab hair right off the animal.  Leather please!  We paid an additional $900 to have the car perma-plated and Scotchgarded but it’s not going to solve this issue.  I was also hoping that once the seats folded down, there would be a standard protective mat to place over the area if you want to transport a bicycle and keep that upholstery clean.  Not yet.   

Keyless Start, Power to Merge

Mastering the procedure for starting this electric car without an actual key takes a few practice runs. First, you put your foot on the brake and then push the start button, release the emergency brake and put it in drive. It’s dead quiet, so you really have to take it on faith that it’s ready to go.  It feels incredibly quick from a standing start due to the torque character of the electric motor.  Its handling is quick and responsive and it turns and stops on a dime, almost feeling like a sports car.  I timed it yesterday when merging onto Highway 101 South and reached 65 mph in a snap, a lot faster in fact than I do in my 2009 Subaru Forester.  

It’s a truly fun little car to drive and feels quite different from a Toyota Prius or other gasoline-powered car.  My only complaint is that shifting into drive is done by pulling back on the shifter and reverse is forward, not terribly intuitive for someone who previously owned a jeep and has become accustomed to shifting Tom’s Z06.  Note to Nissan: Forward = drive.  Reverse = reverse!

Speaking of its quiet ride, it’s so quiet that Nissan added sound back in to alert the sight and otherwise impaired.  Nissan fitted a small speaker on the car’s left front that emits a very subtle tone up to 18 mph.  After that, Nissan reasons that sound of the tires and wind will be sufficient to warm of an approaching Leaf.  When it’s in reverse, it also emits a faint sound.

The Leaf comes with an innovative EV-IT system that assists with range tracking and updates about nearby charging stations. Down-side: Big Brother is a co-passenger and he's very talkative.

EV-IT System: ECO Mode and Pesky Touch Screen

For a relatively inexpensive car, it’s rather sophisticated.  The LED headlamps, EV-IT and navigation systems, Nissan Carwings economy tracking system, solar panel (only available with SL model), built in Bluetooth speaker phone, are all features one might find on a more expensive car.  

Driving the car is really about optimizing your range.  The car comes with a number of features that assist with that.  Constantly displayed are how much charge is left and how many miles remain in your driving range.  A power meter tracks energy consumption and regeneration.  If you drive efficiently, the eco indicator will reward you with a virtual forest.  You can also check with the trip computer to see how much time is needed for a full charge.  You can switch settings to see your efficiency in miles/kWh.

At roughly 20 remaining miles, the Nissan Leaf alerts you of your status and offers to assist you with finding a charging station.

There’s also an EV-IT system which gives you pertinent graphic information. On the map display, you can see your remaining range with a circle giving nearby charging spots.  Another screen tells how to maximize your heater or A/C usage to maximize range.  

I had worried that I would have a lead foot and would not be able to maximize the efficiency of the battery charge.  The Leaf has what Nissan calls the ECO mode where the car’s computer takes control of acceleration and tries to optimize the battery charge.  This really works and it is barely noticeable that computer is controlling acceleration.

Two complaints so far– the multi-level touch screen controls are complex and hard to manage while driving and using the windshield wipers, heater and air conditioning does significantly reduce mileage.  Don’t try to get the full 100+ miles if it’s a cold rainy day and you need to run the heater, defroster and windshield wipers throughout the trip or a hot day and need air conditioning.  I would guess it takes about 20% of the battery charge to continually run them.

For running around town, the Leaf is fabulous and economical.  We have our own solar PV system so charging the Leaf is free.  It feels great driving by all those gas stations with their $4 plus per gallon for regular signs staring you in the face.  

Tom charges the Leaf with a unit that looks just like a gas pump.

Charging at Home: Level 1 and Level 2 EVSE

Our Leaf came with a 120 Volt Level 1 EVSE that allows charging from a standard 20 Amp outlets available anywhere.  Everyone had been concerned at how slow charging would be at 120 Volts and how the 240 Volt EVSE was going to be over $2000 installed. We discovered that since we don’t run the battery down too low, that at 120 Volts, the Leaf charged to 100% easily overnight in about 12 hours. We have been plugging it in around dinner time and by morning, it’s fully charged.  We have ordered a 240V Level 2 Charging EVSE and will be installing it in our garage ourselves with the help of an electrician friend.  By doing this, we will be able to install the Level 2 EVSE for about $900 in our garage. Once we’ve done that, we will be able to charge our Leaf in about 5-6 hours from empty to full.

The Leaf is fitted with a 24kW lithium-ion battery pack complete with 48 separate modules housing four cells a piece.  If one of these fails, Nissan can replace the nodule without having to replace the entire battery pack.  That’s on Nissan.   If you happen to ignore the numerous built-in warning systems, and deplete your battery, the first Leafs come with 3 years of free roadside assistance.  A flatbed truck will haul you to a charger.   

Commercial Parking and Charging and Commute Lane

I have yet to drive the car into San Francisco and park in any of the numerous garages with charging stations.  I mainly park at Sutter/Stockton Garage, Civic Center, and Opera Plaza and all of these supposedly have stations.  EVs can drive in the commute lane by applying for a special sticker…worth the price alone.

March 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

review: in Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Ruined,” life in the war-ravaged Congo comes to life, at Berkeley Rep through April 10, 2011

Oberon K.A. Adjepong (L) and Tonye Patano star in Ruined, a powerful new play by Lynn Nottage that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, at Berkeley Rep through April 10, 2011. Photo courtesy of

In Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize winning Ruined at the Berkeley Rep, Mama Nadi courageously runs a bar and whorehouse in a jungle mining town in the war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Her customers are miners, rebels, or government soldiers, plunderers– whoever happens to be roaming or to control that particular spot of land on any given day.  And all the women who work for her have been “ruined” — their humanity degraded through rape, one of the most heinous of war crimes.    But is she protecting or profiting by the women she shelters?  How far will she or they go to survive?  Can a price be placed on human life?  All of these questions fuel the drama in Ruined, a remarkable theatrical accomplishment crafted with sensitivity, hope, and humor that unflinchingly addresses the sexual violence perpetrated against women living in the shadow of war.  

Lynn Nottage is well known for her plays Intimate Apparel (2003) and Las Meninas (2002) that addressed people marginalized in history.  Ruined looks at the contemporary horror of the largest war in modern African history, the Second Congo War, which began in 1998 and directly involved eight nations, as well 25 armed groups.  By 2008, the war and its aftermath had claimed the lives of 5.4 million people, making it the deadliest conflict since WWII.  Sexual violence—rape and sexual mutilation– became so common in the eastern DRC, that an April 2010 study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) found a 17-fold increase in civilian rapes there between 2004 and 2008.  Surprisingly, rape continued well after the war too due to a complete breakdown in social structures.  

Ruined is inspired by actual interviews Nottage conducted in the Congo in 2004 with women who readily told her their stories.  “By the end of the interviews,” writes Nottage in the playbook (p. 18), “I realized that a war was being fought over the bodies of women. Rape was being used to punish and destroy communities.”  Ruined shines a light on the misogyny that feeds the phenomenon of mass rape and on the desperation of its unwitting female victims.  There is no one who can watch Ruined and not be affected.  And what we choose to do with our awareness and provocation, can lead to change.   

In Nottage’s play, the girls who come to work for Mama Nadi (Tonye Patano) do so because they have no options, nowhere else to go.  Mama Nadi profits from their bodies but houses, feeds, and protects these girls from mutilation and murder.  Within the confines of her shack-cum-brothel, they are safer than they would be anywhere else in this ravaged land. 

(L to R) Tonye Patano, Jason Bowen and Pascale Armand star in Ruined, a powerful new play by Lynn Nottage that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama at Berkeley Rep through April 10, 2011. Photo courtesy of

As Nottage slowly fills in details in each of her characters’ past and present lives, she firmly establishes the identity of each of the women that history has sought to eliminate.  Mama Nadi, the play’s lynchpin and shrewd matriarch, is a survivor and profiteer.  Apolitical, she will serve anyone as long as they check their weapons at the door.  It is the sheer force of her personality and the sexual escape she offers the rebels that keep her safe.

When Christian (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) unexpectedly delivers two girls along with the supplies he hopes to sell her, she callously inspects them like meat and refuses.  When he offers her two for the price of one, flirts, and throws in some chocolates, she agrees. Sophie (Carla Duren), the beautiful one, was kicked out of her home after being assaulted by rebel soldiers.  She’s not going to be of any good to Mama because she’s been ruined—raped, ravaged, and then genitally mutilated by a bayonet.  She walks unevenly and laboriously, every step an effort.  Reluctantly, Mama agrees to take her because she comes packaged with Salima (Pascale Armand), who is plain but genitally intact.  Salima was raped and then held captive in the jungle for five months only to have her husband blame her for her fate.  When she is alone, she desperately cradles an imaginary baby in her arms and replays the moment she was taken again and again.  It is not until the second act, when her husband shows up, that we learn the depths of her horrific tale and the pain that will drive her to commit an unredeemable act.    

(L to R) Zainab Jah, Carla Duren and Pascale Armand star in Ruined, a powerful new play by Lynn Nottage that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama at Berkeley Rep through April 10, 2011. Photo courtesy of

The two girls join Josephine (Zainab Jah), the tough talking, hardened, and once envied daughter of a village chief who, ravaged and abandoned, now turns tricks in the brothel.  Tossed aside by family and their community, the girls bond over Sophie’s sweet singing and her reading of an engrossing romance novel where a passage about a first kiss can enrapture them all day long.  Squabbling, talking and at times laughing, they gradually adapt to their new environment and all look to Mama to protect them from the violence that rages outside their door.  

Throughout the play, Mama stashes and pulls out wads of cash out from between her breasts, very concerned with profit but not so good with the books for which she relies on Sophie.  When betrayed, her retaliation is swift.   It is only late in the second act that we learn she is capable of compassion and generosity.  In all, Nottage has crafted a very affecting portrait of a woman who has survived but has shed parts of her soul to do so.  The ending thus came as a surprise for me but I will not reveal it here.   Ruined owes a great deal to Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage, another story of a maternal military supplier who connives her way through war.

Carla Duren (Sophie) sings hauntingly beautiful songs whose lyrics were written by Nottage to original music by Dominic Kanza.  Each cast member gives a highly engaging performance, creating the magical and rare feeling that great theatre evokes–that everything is in sync and flowing.   

Page to Stage, Monday, April 4, 2011, 7 PM: human rights issues discussion

To facilitate further conversation about Ruined’s thought-provoking script and the important issues it raises, Berkeley Rep is hosting a free event in the Roda Theatre at 7:00 PM on Monday, April 4.  Page to Stage will feature four experts in social justice from nonprofit organizations working to promote women’s rights in Africa. The panelists include Heidi Lehmann from the Women’s Empowerment and Protection Unit of International Rescue Committee, Muadi Mukenge from the Global Fund for Women, Rachel Niehuus from the Cal Human Rights Center, and Anneke Van Woudenberg from the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.  Madeleine Oldham, Berkeley Rep’s literary manager and dramaturg, will moderate the conversation.  (The lobby and café open at 6:00 PM, and the theatre opens at 6:30 PM for general-admission seating. Donors to Berkeley Rep get an opportunity to meet the guests of honor at an exclusive reception catered by Etc Catering, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, and Raymond Vineyards.)

Ruined :   Written by Lynn Nottage, Directed by Liesl Tommy
Designed by Randy Duncan (choreographer), Clint Ramos (sets), Kathleen Geldard (costumes), Lap Chi Chu (lights), and Broken Chord (sound and original music)
Starring: Oberon K. A. Adjepong, Pascale Armand, Jason Bowen, Carla Duren, Wendell B. Franklin, Zainab Jah, Joseph Kamal, Adesoji Odukogbe, Kola Ogundiran, Okieriete Onaodowan, Tonye Patano, Adrian Roberts, and Alvin Terry

Lynn Nottage:  Nottage was born in Brooklyn in 1964 and is a graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Drama. She received a Guggenheim Grant for Playwriting (2005), the MacArthur “Genius” Award (2007) and numerous other awards including the PEN/Laura Pels Award for Drama, and the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award.

In 2009, Ruined won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Drama Desk Award, the inaugural Horton Foote Prize for Outstanding New American Play, the Lucille Lortel Award, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, an Obie Award, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play.  Its world premiere was at the Goodman Theater (New Stages Series) in 2007 and its London premiere was at the Almeida Theatre.  It is playing at numerous regional theatres in the United States this year.

Nottage’s other plays include Crumbs from the Table of Joy (1995); Fabulation, or the Re- Education of Undine (2004), which received an Obie Award; Intimate Apparel (2003), which received the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play and became the nation’s most produced play in 2005- 06; Las Meninas (2002); Mud, River, Stone (1998); Por’knockers (1995); and POOF! (1993).  

Liesl Tommy: A South African native who grew up under apartheid, Tommy is known for working with young African- American writers like Eisa Davis, Danai Gurira, and Tracey Scott Wilson.  She has directed two plays by Lynn Nottage: Ruined at the Huntington, La Jolla Playhouse, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the world premiere of A Stone’s Throw at Women’s Project.  Tommy was awarded the NEA/TCG Directors Grant and the New York Theatre Workshop Casting/Directing Fellowship and has been a guest director and teacher at Juilliard, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and Trinity Rep/Brown University’s MFA Directing and Acting Program.

Details:  Ruined runs through April 10, 2011 with performances Tuesday-Sat at 8 PM, Sunday at 7 PM, and at 2PM (matinee) on Saturday and Sunday.  Berkeley Rep is located at 2025 Addison Street (near the intersection of Addison and Shattuck Avenue), Berkeley, 94704. Tickets: $73 to $34.  Box office:  (510) 647-2949 or .  Parking: paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre.  The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $3 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM or all day on Saturday or Sunday when your garage-issued parking ticket is validated in the theatre lobby.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bouquets to Art 2011 launches Monday with a Spanish theme to celebrate Balenciaga–at San Francisco’s de Young Museum through March 19, 2011


For the next five days starting Monday, March 14, Bouquets to Art will transform the De Young Museum into a fragrant extravaganza of floral arrangements inspired by art.  Now in its 27th year, Bouquets to Art is the museum’s biggest fundraiser and one of the country’s leading floral events.  Floral designers from all over the world, but mainly from the greater Bay Area, organize their loveliest and most exotic blooms into creative arrangements that respond to works in the museum’s permanent collection.   It all launches this Monday evening with a festive opening night preview party in Wilsey Court.  In addition to a sneak preview of 150 intoxicatingly fresh floral arrangements, there will be a lavish Spanish buffet by McCall Associates, hosted bars, and live music provided by a Spanish guitar trio.

Organized by the San Francisco Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums, this year’s show celebrates the highly anticipated Balenciaga and Spain exhibition that opens March 26 and runs through July 4, 2011.  Balenciaga and Spain at the de Young, curated by Hamish Bowles, European editor at large for Vogue, is the first exhibition to examine the impact of Spain’s culture, history and art on one of its greatest artists, couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga.  The exhibition will showcase approximately 120 ensembles, many of them generously lent from the Balenciaga Archives as the result of an unprecedented collaboration.  The accessories and photographs together will provide a complete picture of Balenciaga’s creativity and sources of inspiration.

Local participants in this year’s Bouquets to Art include Catherine Scott of Catherine Scott Flowers (Sonoma), Josette Brose-Eichar of Lavender (Sonoma),  Pat Friday Flowers (St. Helena) and Natasha Jacobsen, Flowers by Natasha (Gualala).The show is complimented by a series of daily lectures by noted Bay Area, national and international floral designers and special luncheons and high teas. 

“This is a chance to be whimsical and sculptural with floral designs,” said Pat Friday, owner of Pat Friday Flowers, St. Helena, who has been a participant in Bouquets to Art for 18 years.  “It’s a real celebration of other designers in Northern, CA too and a chance to see some exceptional work.”  Along with Rachael Riser, senior floral designer, Friday is creating a floral moonscape  to correspond to two black and white photographs of the moon—one is from the late 1800’s and was taken by telescope and the other is a NASA photograph taken from the surface of the moon.  Their moonscape incorporates a variety of cacti, succulents, hyacinths, chrysanthemums, brunia, agonis, exculayptus pods, ranunculus, dusty miller, silver tree, baby’s breath, and craspedia.  The work is in Gallery 12.

“We got excited about what could be on the surface of the moon in more whimsical and fun way and looked for things that weren’t captured in those photos,” said Rachael Riser.  “There’s a dark side and a light side and a few little surprises.” 

Bouquets to Art 2011 Schedule of Events:

Monday, March 14
6:30–9:30 pm: Opening Night Preview Party, featuring floral exhibits, lavish buffet by
McCall Associates, hosted bars and live music by a Spanish guitar trio.

Tuesday, March 15
9:30 am–5:15 pm: Floral exhibits, luncheons and afternoon teas
10 am: Lecture by J. Keith White, Houston-based floral designer
1:30 pm: Lecture by Reverend William McMillan, Belfast-based floral designer

Wednesday, March 16
9:30 am–5:15 pm: Floral exhibits, luncheons and afternoon teas
10 am: Lecture by Shane Connolly, London-based floral designer
1:30 pm: Flora Grubb and Susie Nadler, San Francisco floral designers
6–8 pm: The Fine Arts Museums members-only evening

Thursday, March 17
9:30 am–5:15 pm: Floral exhibits, luncheons and afternoon teas
10 am: Lecture by Soho Sakai, East Bay floral designer
1:30 pm: Lecture by Kate Berry, New York City-based floral designer

Friday, March 18
9:30 am–8:45 pm: Floral exhibits

Saturday, March 19
9:30 am–5:15 pm: Floral exhibits, benefit drawing

Bouquets to Art 2011 Ticketing
General admission allows access to all floral exhibits and special exhibition galleries. Advance general admission tickets may be purchased up to 24 hours prior to your visit either online or in person at the museum box office.  Day-of-visit general admission ticket purchases include an additional $5 surcharge.  Adult tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door, senior 65+ tickets are $17 in advance and $22 at the door, youth 6–17 tickets are $16 in advance and $21 at the door and children 5 and under are free.  FAMSF members receive free admission and do not need to make advance reservations for general admission.  Member tickets may be picked up at the membership desk on the day of the visit.  Advance tickets are required for the opening night preview party, luncheons, lectures and afternoon teas. For more information and to order tickets, go to

 Bouquets to Art 2011 Hours

Tuesday through Saturday, March 15-19, 2011, from 9:30 AM to 5:15 PM

Extended hours Friday, March 18, 2011, until 8:45 PM

Museum members-only night on Wednesday, March 16, from 6 to 8 PM

 Visiting the de Young:
Address: Golden Gate Park 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive San Francisco, CA 94118
Parking: street parking is free for 3 hours within the park and there is a paid parking garage that is adjoined to the deYoung Museum.

March 13, 2011 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BYOF—build your own festival: Pick across the many film festivals in San Francisco right now and explore a topic or country in depth

It seems like each March brings an explosion of film festivals to the Bay Area and shifting through the programming can be time-consuming.  By mixing and matching programming across festivals though, you can BYOF—build your festival…and it’s well worth it!   Right now, the 29th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) is screening 108 feature films, documentaries and videos from all points of the globe Asian and across town, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is offering the Human Rights Watch Film Festival every Thursday evening in March and Iran Beyond Censorship from March 20-27, 2011.  By combining programming from these three festivals, you can meet very specific intersts.  Here’s a small sample of  what’s available for consumption this weekend and in March:

Let’s say you have an interest in Cambodia.   By catching “Resident Aliens” (SFIAAFF) at 7:30 pm on Saturday, March 13 you can see the shocking true story of three twenty-something Cambodian Americans whose American dream crumbled when they became young adult felons and, after serving out prison terms in the U.S., were deported back to Cambodia.  Ross Tuttle’s 2010 documentary tells how these three young adults immigrated to the United States as children during the Cambodian genocide.  All three were eligible for citizenship, but remained resident aliens.  Through visits back to the neighborhoods where they grew up,  primarily poor Cambodian communities in inner-cities, it’s easy to see how they fell into into crime.  When Tuttle meets up with them in Phnom Penh, they are virtually alone without family or the language skills to assimilate back into their native culture. Tuttle follows his subjects as they take different approaches to establishing a new life all while struggling with the fact that they can never return to the United States.

Turning to the YBCA’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, you can then catch “Enemies of the People” on Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 7:30 PM at YBCA which takes a riveting look back at the country’s past through the eyes of a very intrepid journalist.  Winner of the Sundance World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Prize, Enemies of the People  (2009) follows the intensely personal project of Mr. Thet Sambath, whose parents and brother were among the approximately two million people who perished during the mass killings from 1975 to 1979 at the hands of Cambodia’s Communist Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for the deaths of nearly a quarter of the small country’s population.  With unprecedented access achieved patiently over years, he gently coaxes groundbreaking confessions from Nuon Chea, the notorious ‘Brother Number Two,’ (Pol Pot’s second in command) and from numerous grassroots killers, now frail seniors living out their final days.  As Sambath juggles between objective reportage and his intense personal desire for healing and understanding, he uncovers terrifying personal explanations for the genocide.  Somehow, operating like a one man Cambodian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he manages to listen calmly to the perpetrators speak casually about slitting throats and extracting and eating human gall bladder.  When he finally does share his truth, the results are healing but ultimately he has lost almost everything dear in life to him.

Who doesn’t love Iranian film?  SFIAAFF29 offers three new films Amin, Dogsweat, and Gold and Copper while YBCA’s Iran Beyond Censorship offers Offside, Close-up, Crimson Gold and The White Meadows. 

Let’s say, within the genre of Iranian film, you are very interested in storytelling.  Homayoun Asaian’s Gold and Copper has garnered much acclaim from audience and critics alike for its poetic rendering of a story involving Seyed, a man studying to be a mullah, and his family who have just relocated to Tehran.  The family game plan is wildly interrupted when they learn that Sayed’s young wife has MS (multiple sclerosis) and is soon to be completely paralyzed.  Sayed has to juggle his studies and the very untraditional tasks of child-care and home management. Screens: Saturday March 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM (Sundance Kabuki) and Sunday March 13, at 7 PM at Viz Cinema.

Looking for something with more edge?  SFIAAFF29 also offers Hossein Keshavarz’s provocative Dogsweat, shot clandestinely throughout Tehran before the 2009 elections.  Using the urgency of cinéma vérité, the lives of six teenagers intertwine in contemporary Iran.  Misunderstood by their families and oppressed by conservative Islamic society, they act out their desires behind closed doors.  A feminist finds herself involved with a married man; new lovers seek out a place to be intimate; a gay man faces an arranged marriage; a female pop singer risks exposure and a grief-stricken son lashes out against fundamentalists.   Dogsweat uses the rich tapestry of storytelling to show Iran the way it truly is right now.  Screens: Saturday March 12, 2011 at 6 PM (Sundance Kabuki) and Wednesday March 16 at 6:45 PM at Viz Cinemas.

Over at YBCA’s Iran Beyond Censorship, Mohammad Rasoulof’s mesmerizing The White Meadows, set in Iran’s mysterious and remote Lake Urmia region, is an allegorical tale about a boatman who travels the salt islands collecting tears in a glass vial.  In the end, all is for not, as the tears collected so carefully are used to bathe the feet of a dying man and then tossed into the sea.  As an allegory for contemporary Iran, a society pressured to empty its very soul and aware of the sad farce imposed upon it, this film does its work.  Rasoulof, 38, from Shiraz, was recently among more than 100 prominent Iranian political figures and activists who were put on a mass trial in Tehran following the crackdown on opposition supporters claiming President Ahmadinejad fraudulently won the June 2009 election.  Rasoulof was imprisoned in March of this year and released March 18, 2010, just before the New Year holiday on March 21, 2010. Despite his and other prominent Iranian filmmakers’ tricky relationship with the post-revolutionary powers that be, the Iranian film industry manages, under extreme repression, to produce over 60 films annually and you can see three of them at the Yerba Buena Center later this month.  The White Meadows screens March 29, 2011 at 4 PM at YBCA screening room.


29th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival:  Screenings are at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Viz Cinema, Landmark Clay Theatre, Japantown Peace Plaza, Castro Theatre and VIZ Cinema in San Francisco, and in San Jose at Camera 12 Cinemas and in Berkeley at Pacific Film Archive.  Tickets for most events are $10 to $12.  For details, call (415) 865-1588 or  

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Human Rights Watch Film Festival at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, (across the street from SFMOMA), San Francisco, CA 94103.  Several reasonably priced parking garages are located within one block of YBCA.   Human Rights Watch Film Festival screens Thursday evenings, March 10-31, 2011.  Tickets: $8 regular; $6 students, seniors, teachers and YBCA members.  Same day gallery admission with film ticket.  For more information visit, or call (415) 978-2787. 

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Iran Beyond Censorship:  March 20-27, 2011 at YBCA at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, (across the street from SFMOMA), San Francisco, CA 94103. Several reasonably priced parking garages are located within one block of YBCA.   Iran Beyond Censorship screens March Human Rights Watch Film Festival screens March 20, 25, and 27 at various times. Tickets: $8 regular; $6 students, seniors, teachers and YBCA members.  Same day gallery admission with film ticket.  For more information visit  or call (415) 978-2787.

March 12, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: SFIAAFF 29 “Made in India” a new documentary screening this weekend shows that outsourcing your pregnancy to India is cheap but delivers a heavy bundle of issues

As “Made in India “ opens, 40 year old Lisa Switzer tells us that she, like many women, defines herself by her ability to have children.  Sadly, she and her husband, Brian, have tried all the latest technologies but she cannot carry a baby in her uterus due to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and complex endometrial hyperplasia.  Desperate for a child, they have put up their home and are going to gamble it all on having a baby through a surrogate in India.  Infertile American couples on average pay $110,000 for a domestic surrogacy while the cost in India is roughly $25,000 including clinic charges, lawyer’s bills, travel and lodging and the surrogate’s fee.  Surrogacy outsourced to India has become such an attractive option to couples unable to have their own children that it has spawned an entire industry in procreative or reproductive tourism, valued at more than $450 million in India. And that industry has a bundle of ethical, legal, moral/human rights attached to, making it all the more attractive to filmmakers who have the mettle to really dig into it.

In "Made in India," a documentary about procreative tourism, 40 year old Liza Switzer has tried to get pregnant for 7 years run out of options and decides to outsource her pregnacy to a surrogate in India who will be implanted with embryos created from her own eggs fertilized by her husbands sperm. Photo: courtesy Rebecca Haimowitz

Enter Rebecca Haimowitz (American) and Vaishali Sinha (Indian), two accomplished and determined women, whose feature-length documentary Made in India is of the best explorations of the subject to date.  Made in India film follows the white and middle-class Switzers, who live in the suburbs in Texas on a journey that leads them to India and to Aasia, the Indian surrogate who will gestate their baby to term.  

As the editor of many articles on adoption, I wondered why the Switzers, who had exhausted practically all their options, would not consider adoption.  Lisa Switzer answers straight out that they feel they need a child that carries their own genetic imprint and will settle for nothing less. Still, after 7 years of trying to conceive and carry a child, there is nothing to show for their emotional heartache and depleted finances.  Lisa’s desperation is palpable and her husband’s desire to fulfill her non-negotiable wish has been taxing and he speaks candidly about what they have gone through.  

After searching the Internet, Lisa finds Planet Hospital, a Los Angeles-based organization that serves as a third-party facilitator, outsourcing medical practices abroad to 38 hospitals in 13 countries.  She speaks with CEO, Rudy Rupak, who operates out of what appears to be an office he rents on a daily basis and learns that she and her husband will pay about $25,000 by using an Indian surrogate.  They will not be able to choose or to meet the surrogate and will have to travel to Mumbai to the Rotunda Clinic for egg extraction which is also cheaper and expedited.  Rudy explains that in the interest of efficiency, Lisa will arrive in Mumbai when she is at the appropriate time in her cycle and she will be matched with an Indian surrogate who is ready to accept the embryo for imlantation.  Later, they will return to pick up their baby.  Listening to Rupak speak, you get the immediate sense that the Switzers, like many couples, represent a business opportunity to be seized and mined.

In "Made in India," Assia, who is married with two children of her own, becomes a surrogate for Americans Brian and Liza Switzer. They are told she will receive $7,000 and she is told she will receive $2,000. Photo: courtesy Rebecca Haimowitz

Haimowitz and Sinha act as fly-on-the wall documentarians, capturing the moment by moment complexities of organizing this from Lisa’s perspective and from the perspective of Aasia, the surrogate.  Aasia is a poor, illiterate young woman who is married and already has two young children of her own.  She and her husband live in the slums of Mumbai and his work as a mechanic has been threatened by all the new cars on the market.   Her motivation for this is purely financial.  When her sister-in-law tells her about this opportunity, she too jumps on it and speaks of what it will mean to be able to save some money to better the lives of her children, especially her daughter.  

The film unfolds in real time and does an excellent job of covering the emotional roller-coaster of surrogacy for the parents as well as for the surrogate, who must agree to relinquish the baby at birth, and her family.  Aasia must also convince her husband to sign papers that agree to the surrogacy, no easy task in a society where a women’s value is largely derived from her purity.  At first, the Indian couple is not even aware that conception can occur via embryo implantation and that intercourse is not necessary.  Aasia explains the procedure to her husband but not risking his refusal, doesn’t explain fully the papers he is signing.  As her pregnancy becomes visible, she concocts a cover story for the neighborhood—she is doing this for her sister (fabricated) who is unable to conceive and will give the baby to her.  

"Made in India" explores the cost efficiency of surrogacy in India and the booming reproductive tourism industry. Here, at the Rotunda Lab, in Mumbai, a technician is preparing Lisa Switzers freshly harvested eggs for fertilization and implantation into the Aasia, the Indian surrogate who will Lisa and Brian Switzers baby to term. Photo: courtesy Rebecca Haimowitz

While there are many opportunities for the filmmakers to insert strong bias unto this film, Haimowitz and Sinha do an excellent job of remaining as editorially neutral as possible recognizing that the Switzers are desperate for a child, Aasia is desperate for money, Planet Hospital is doing this for profit and in India every single person along the way is expecting slice of the action.  As might be expected, the “truth” about who gets paid what is muddled and it becomes apparent very early that the Switzers are being told that the surrogate will get $7,000 while Aasia is told she will get $2,000.   The filmmakers, who know what is happening to both parties, do an excellent, and what must have been ethically grueling, job of letting the story unfold.   

Made in India also explores the complex ethical issues involved in international surrogacy through brief conversations with well-versed experts.  In all, the film sensitively explores the emotional and financial desperation that is driving this industry in India and some measures that are currently under consideration in India to regulate surrogacy and offer some protection to both surrogates and foreign couples.  The most immediate and glaring risk is the medical risk to the surrogate which in this case seems responsibly minimalized through regular medical check-ups, the opportunity to live in a maternity home with other surrgoates, a hopsital delivery, and post-natal attention.  This is not always the case and all sorts of disasters have been reported in the media.   We are left to imagine what might happen if she miscarries–is she compensated at all?  or if the pregnancy or delivery results in some permanent impairment, how is she cared for long-term?  

The film also makes it very clear that the risk is not all born by the surrogate.  The parents can face hurdles with obtaining birth certificates that name them as the parents, as well when medical complications arise before, during and after birth.  In the end though, for families like the Switzers, having a baby made in India has been an unexpected but worthwhile path to parenthood.  And for the surrogate, the money earned even from a grossly unbalanced exchange, is a windfall that would not otherwise be available.   This film is a must-see for those contemplating international surrogacy.    

Made in India: (2010, 97 minutes)  Directors/ Producers: Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha, Cinematographers: Adri Thakur, Basia Winograd, Rebecca Haimowitz, and Vaishali Sinha, Editor: Myles Kane, Music: Amrtha Vaz. Made in India was supported in part by Chicken & Egg Pictures, Center for Asian American Media, The Fledgling Fund, Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, New York State Council on the Arts, The Playboy Foundation and other generous donors/foundations.   

Details:  Made in India is part of the 29th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) sponsored by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), San Francisco.   Screens— SUN 3.13 (6 PM, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, San Francisco), WED 3.16 (6:45 PM, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, San Francisco), SAT 3.19 (6 PM, Camera 12 Cinemas, San Jose).  General Admission Tickets: $12 available online at and in person on day of show for cash at the venue before the screening.  Advance sales tickets are available in person only at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas until March 17.   A limited number of rush tickets will be available for each screening after advance sales tickets are sold out.  The line for rush tickets will form about one hour before show time outside the theatre.  No rush tickets for PFA screenings.


March 11, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Please sit…CCA star student Michele Marti talks about rejuvinating Victorian chairs by spreading their legs and getting very naughty… “Family Tree” at Petaluma Arts Center through March 13, 2011

Michele Marti's "Curious Sofa" is a gorgeous spoof on Victorian morays as well as furniture design. Two people sitting on this plushly upholstered seat are forced to touch knees, a very un-Victorian thing to do. Photo: courtesy Michele Marti

I was so impressed with the great design in the student component of Family Tree, the woodworking show at the Petaluma Art Center, that I followed-up with Michele Marti whose rebuilt Victorian chairs stand out with their distinctive shapes, sumptuous fabric and sensual vibe.  It is rumored that the prudish Victorians were so uptight that they didn’t even use the word “leg” because it was too risqué, so Marti’s interest in giving these staid chairs a new life and a rebellious new voice was all the more intriguing.   Marti, 25, is from South Florida and is in her final year in the Furniture Program at California College of the Arts (CCA).  Two of her pieces are in the community gallery of the Petaluma Art Center through Sunday, March 13, 2011.

 What inspired you to revisit the Victorian era with these innovative repurposing projects you undertake?

 Michele Marti: I have always loved Victorian as well as Rococo style furniture but haven’t had the opportunity to work with the style until my senior year here at CCA.  My CCA thesis explores sensuality and sexuality in and around furniture.  Since Victorian and Rococo furniture are inherently stylized with masculinity and femininity, they are what inspired me most, and I wanted to really dive into the world of regeneration.  Since I have begun, I have become so attached to the pieces of furniture that I am rejuvenating that every scratch, dent, and drilled hole tells me a story of what these pieces have endured throughout their lives.  Because of this, the chairs become more and more like people and therefore I feel like I have to give them the opportunity to experience a new life of sensuality and sexuality.  Furniture is a cradle for the body and this interaction between the body and furniture is central to my interest and intentions when sculpting ideations for a new work.

The Victorian furniture pieces Michele Marti works with have seen a lot history---she rebuilds them and then painstakingly re-upholsters them and now these chairs sing a different tune. The Curious Sofa is on display at the Petaluma Arts Center through March, 13, 2011. Photo: Michele Marti.

 Tell us more about the two pieces that are in Family Tree at the Petaluma Arts Center.

Michele Marti: All of the pieces that I have made and am making have to do with my personal life in one way or another.  I have been out of a relationship for almost 3 years and, due to that, these works have been realized.  “Victorian Spread” was the first of the series.  By cutting the table and chair straight down the middle, I have exposed the femininity of each and consciously exposed it to the world.  This very well could be psychoanalyzed and be viewed as a way of exposing myself, my sexual frustrations, my vagina and all, to the world.

“The Curious Sofa” is quite a curious sofa.   As the reconstruction of the chairs went along and with some hilarious “how do you… ?” testing, it was soon discovered that this was a serious chair meant for one thing, some serious flirting.   In the end “The Curious Sofa” was tufted with its original greenish gold buttons and reupholstered in a charcoal grey velvet fabric in order to remain gender neutral and sensuous to the touch.  There is this really incredible thing that happens between two people when sitting in this curious sofa and that is the touching that can barely be avoided between their knees.  It’s a kind of uncomfortable,yet unexpected sensuous flirting that occurs and provokes your insides to want more. 

What do enjoy about upholstery and what goes into your decision to select a specific look or fabric? 
Michele Marti:  “The Curious Sofa” was my first major upholstery project and I have fallen in love with the process.  I taught myself how to upholster, with tips here and there from Ashley Eriksmoen (also in Family Tree and a CCC instructor).  I begin by taking very detailed photographs as I deconstruct the pieces before they are rejuvenated and use these for reference when I come up with my new design.  It is a very labor intensive process that I had overlooked for years until I started upholstering myself.  There were times in September of last year where I couldn’t even grab the knob of a door because my hands hurt so much.  Though it is painful in the beginning, it is so satisfying to be able to be with a piece from beginning to end and see it though all of the steps and processes.   

Michele Marti's Victorian Spread has a very naughty idea behind it--she cut a Victorian chair and table right down the middle, exposing the feminity of each, and consciously revealed it to the world. Photo: Geneva Anderson

What are you working on right now? 

Michele Marti: Currently, I am working on a similar piece to “The Curious Sofa” except this one is more gender based.  Man, woman sitting side by side with the arm of the masculine chair around the back of the feminine chair.  It will also be an upholstered piece and can be seen May 7th at our CCA exhibition at the Mina Dresden Gallery San Francisco.  I think it is going to be called “Lovers.”  The feminine chair is turned inward towards the masculine chair which then forces the female sitter to put her leg(s) on the lap or over the knee of the male sitter.  

(read more about Michele Marti and Family Tree in ARThound March 4, 2011

Details: The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, at East Washington Street, in central Petaluma,  94952.  Gallery hours: Thursday- Monday, noon to 4 pm.  Phone: (707) 762-5600 or

March 13, 1-4pm, Closing Party & Film Preview:  Come view the new documentary film, Woodsmith/The Life and Times of Arthur Espenet Carpenter and celebrate the closing of Family Tree, the wonderful exhibition of Northern Californian fine wood craft.

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival 29, a crossroads of all things Asian, opens this Thursday and runs through March 20, 2011

Opening this Thursday and running through March 20, 2011, the 29th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) is screening 108 feature films, documentaries and videos from all points of the globe Asian—from Cambodia to India to Iran to Philippines to Mongolia to Vietnam and many more countries.  It also includes local films produced by or about Asian Americans in places as ordinary as San Francisco and as mysterious as North Korea.  The festival is the nation’s largest showcase for new Asian and Asian American films and whatever your interest, it has something for you—horror, drama, documentaries, action, martial arts, musicals, shorts.  Stay tuned to ARThound for reviews.

Details:  Screenings are at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Viz Cinema, Landmark Clay Theatre, Japantown Peace Plaza, Castro Theatre and VIZ Cinema in San Francisco, and in San Jose at Camera 12 Cinemas and in Berkeley at Pacific Film Archive.  Tickets for most events are $10 to $12.  For details, call (415) 865-1588 or

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , | Leave a comment