Degas in Petaluma—Robert Flynn Johnson’s impeccable collection of Degas drawings are at the Petaluma Arts Center, opening festivities Saturday evening
“Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle or shorthand…“Degas in Petaluma”…. is Petaluma Art Center’s (PAC) biggest coup to date. Featuring 100+ works on paper, the exhibition includes 40 drawings, prints, pastels, and photographs by Degas from his early days of making studies of works at the Louvre to late in his career. Also included in the show are works on paper by artists in his circle, including Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this exhibit is that gives me another chance to meet the collector, Robert Flynn Johnson, and hear him hold court on his favorite subject, his art and his thought processes about art and collecting. I met him 20 years back when he was the curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He was one of their most interesting and knowledgeable curators then, always giving us the juiciest tidbits, enlivening the small victories and defeats in the artist’s daily struggle and reveling in the connections between artists. His own eclectic collecting habits were revealed to us with his marvelous photography show, “Anonymous: 19th and 20th Century Photographs and Quilts by Unknown Artists from the Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson,” at PAC in August 2011. (Click here to read ARThound’s review of that show.) And late last year, Joe McDonald’s Ice House Gallery featured some of Flynn Johnson’s even more eclectic works in “Catch and Release: Works from the Robert Flynn Johnson Collection.” It was there that we all had a chance to preview the chic and wonderfully informative catalog for Flynn Johnson’s Degas collection that Joe had shot the images for. Flynn Johnson’s writing in this catalog represents decades of scholarly research and rumination and reveals Degas as a fascinating young man, oddly rebellious and immensely talented. As Flynn Johnson explores the fine details and artistic choices in these artworks, they come to life. He wrote the wonderful wall captions for the show too, so prepare to be wowed on all fronts.
You won’t want to miss the opening party or his two talks at PAC—
Saturday, June 20—Opening Reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres (5-8PM) (click here to buy $10 tickets if you are not a member of PAC; free to members)
Thursday, July 2, 2015—Chasing Degas: My Four Decades Collecting this Artist and his Circle – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM). $15 General, $10 PAC members.
Thursday, July 16, 2015—Public/ Private: Collecting for the Community while Collecting Personally, a Balancing Act – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM). $15 General, $10 PAC members.
Details: “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle runs through July 26, 2015. The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma’s historic former train depot. Hours 11-5 PM Thursday through Monday, open until 8PM Saturdays. Admission for this special exhibit: $10 General. PAC members, FREE. Tickets may be purchased in advance, here.
Horse Sense—ARThound talks with San Francisco Opera’s Daniel Knapp about “Patches,” the equine star of “The Trojans,” at War Memorial Opera House through July 1, 2015
Horses are mythic. There’s none more colossal or more steeped in legend than the Trojan horse, a prize so glorious that it could not be left standing outside Troy’s gates but once brought inside, would destroy all those in power. As San Francisco Opera opens its summer season with six performances of Berlioz’s glorious musical epic, The Trojans, I spoke with David Knapp, the company’s new production manager, about “Patches,” its equine star. The 23-foot-tall Trojan horse, which is on stage for most of the 5+ hour opera, has been nicknamed “Patches” by SFO because it’s literally pieced together from scraps and functions much like a mechanized puppet, with carpenters and acrobats inside it manipulating it. Back after a 47 year hiatus, it took over a decade of planning to bring the $6 million production to San Francisco Opera (SFO). It’s staged by Sir David McVicar, the acclaimed Scottish director, and is a coproduction of SFO, Royal Opera House, Teatro alla Scala, and Vienna State Opera. Since the opera opened to a sold-out house on June 6, it has drawn universal praise from critics and audience alike. Long before the opera opened though, Patches was a big draw with SFO staff and special visitors who came back stage in droves to pose for photos with the humongous but intricately constructed artwork. Here is my conversation with Knapp about this horse—
What’s so special about this giant horse that has travelled here from Europe.
Daniel Knapp: It’s magnificent—7 meters (approximately 23 feet) tall and is not only a sculpture that is scenic art but it’s also a puppet to a certain extent. It’s constructed of steel and fiberglass and doesn’t weigh too much because it’s mainly fiberglass. It has a gaf piston in it which allows for the rocking of the head and basic movements and that’s very exciting. When it’s first introduced, you get the impression that it’s very tall, frightening. You only see the upper part of the head and wonder where’s it coming from and what does the whole thing look like and is it really a horse? There are 2 carpenters and 3 acrobats inside, moving and manipulating the horse and they’ve been here practicing since the rehearsal period began.
Who gets credit for artistic design of the horse?
Daniel Knapp: It’s Es Devlin, a British designer who’s involved with all the top rock and roll shows—U2 tour, Take That tours, Miley Cyrus—and with opera and theatre. She designed the closing ceremony for the 2012 London Olympic Games. She runs an office with a multitude of assistants and she has just opened an office in Brazil. The conception for the horse came from the workshops of the Royal Opera House and she worked with them to refine it, from the model to the life-scale sculpture we call “Patches” because it’s patched together.
Has Devlin created any other animals that we might recognize?
Daniel Knapp: She’s done all the set and scenic design on this opera but I’m not aware that’s she done another horse. For one of the last Take That tours, she did a big man, that was more than 40 feet tall, that stood up over the course of the concert, going from crouching to standing in the middle of the audience. (Take That is a leading British pop group that formed in 1990 and currently consists of musicians Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen)
(Es Devlin designed the giant walking elephant for Take That’s Circus Live Tour 2009. The 26 foot tall elephant had translucent skin made light-weight chain mail and was constructed by Mark Mason of Asylum Models. It was operated by 13 puppeteers inside the skins and another four at ground level who controlled the head, trunk and legs. It had rods that moved the ears and its tail was an inverted acrobat wearing a helmet with hair extensions. (To read about and see the elephant, click here.)
This version of Troyens is set, more or less, at the time of its composition, in the 1850s, Second Empire France. How did that influence the actual conception for the horse that looks like a machine horse?
Daniel Knapp: Everything that you will see that is part of the horse could have been made at that time or could predate that time. The horse is pieced together from what appear to be rifles, screwdrivers, all sorts of tools and scrap materials like keys…it’s actually mostly fiberglass, a piecemeal puzzle that once put together appears as this great horse.
Carbon footprint aside, what’s entailed in getting something of this magnitude to San Francisco? And then assembling it?
Daniel Knapp: We always use steam ship companies because air is too expensive. It was shipped in 16 containers (40 foot high cube containers). Your entire household could fit in 1 of these containers, or, if you’ve got an extensive household you might need 1.5 containers. It all arrived in pieces in a very organized matchbox system. A team form the Royal Opera House came over to help with the assembly because they are the originators. Actually, our staff went to La Scala last year and watched this process and got a feel for what it takes to put on this production. With this run, we did all of that assembly in 3.5 days; in Milan, they weren’t as quick as we were. We didn’t have the time or money to allow for more time to do it.
How many scenes does Patches appear in?
Daniel Knapp: He appears in a multitude of scenes but I’m not going to give away any of the excitement. He’s on stage for a fair while and, when he’s not hiding in the back, sometimes he’s looming in the background and sometimes he’s hidden by a blackout curtain.
How mobile is the horse and how does it move around the stage? I heard this entails acrobats and carpenters.
Daniel Knapp: Yes, that’s exactly what it takes. We have few carpenters and acrobats around and in it, moving it. It’s on wheels, on a huge A stand. If you think of a child’s swing on the playground and think of it for giants, that’s what the internal structure of the horse is. It moves around on wheels that are on tracks just like a train. The tracks are a part of the original design and actually travel with the production. We had to cover our stage floor with another floor and that entailed adding about 1 inch to our stage to ensure that the weight is distributed evenly so that we don’t damage our rather old stage floor. We also had to re-enforce some of the stage structure underneath to make sure that we don’t suddenly fall in the basement. The horse might be relatively light but the trappings—the drum trucks, the big scenery elements for Troy and Carthage—all together, those weigh 32 tons.
Anything tricky about coordinating the movement of the horse to the music and the singers? Do any of the lead singers have any direct interaction with the horse?
Daniel Knapp: As we know from the Trojan story, the horse is sort of a separate entity. The lead singers certainly react to it but they don’t interact with it directly. The horse’s movement on stage is cued like everything else—people execute what they have rehearsed and there’s nothing complicated about that. These are professionals who are used to working to cues from the stage manager, such as “horse go upstage.” We do this in rehearsal and there’s always a review afterwards to make sure that we have hit our marks. Sometimes, the director might want to change the speed but it’s not complicated. There’s one boss and that’s the director but on stage, it’s the stage manager who calls out when and where.
This is a fiery horse—how is the fire created and will there be accompanying liquid nitrogen and steam, like in the Ring?
Daniel Knapp: The horse itself doesn’t breathe fire but its mane burns, which is a very impressive sight. In the original version, in London, they had the horse smoke but due to restrictions over here, the director distanced himself from that when he did the revival in Milan. That’s what I said about cooking the meal for the third or fourth time, you’ve left out the ginger but added something else. Over here, steam and liquid nitrogen are our only possibilities to create atmosphere due to the CVA restrictions we work under as collaborating artists.
Do you have much freedom in interpretation of this opera and how the horse is used here in San Francisco?
Daniel Knapp: It’s like your last cooking experience when you invite people over for dinner and you remember that, three years ago, you did this fantastic meal and you want to do the same meal again. Will do it exactly the same way? No—that’s exactly the same situation with a revival or co-production. We are not the conceivers, David McVicar or Ses Devlin, we are realizing their artistic vision. We had Leah Hausman, the co-director from London, here, who is a dance and movement director and coach, and other of McVicar’s associates here. We could never do this just ourselves because then it’s not in the original spirit. People in the house who were part of the original creation production do feel differently than people who have just joined a few years later and we needed them.
How appropriate is the War Memorial Opera House stage for a horse of this weight and magnitude? Isn’t SF much smaller than the Royal Opera House or La Scala?
Daniel Knapp: It’s not only the horse but it’s also the enormous drum trucks which support Carthage and Troy. Carthage is an entire terracotta kingdom and you’ll be blown away by it, as much as by the horse. You’ve also got the chorus, the singers, dancers, acrobats—over 130 on stage.
Stage wise, we are a little smaller but, auditorium wise, we are bigger than all the European houses. We compare ourselves to the size of Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki, which has the biggest modern stage (together with the Opéra Bastille in Paris) in Europe. Here in the US, you have this curiosum or wonderful paradox because sometimes there are stages like ours that originally did not have a backstage or a real up stage storage area but only a stage area. Actually, up until 45 years ago, all our sets were built right on stage. Our auditorium is huge compared to all the European houses. With 3,146 seats, we are bigger than all other houses but now our stage is smaller, so over the next 20 years there will probably be some developments.
Any funny stories related to Patches so far?
Daniel Knapp: Just people excited to have their picture taken with Patches. It’s like we are a part of Disney World here; even the staff is coming down to the stage to have their picture taken.
What’s your favorite scene in Trojans?
Daniel Knapp: It’s the whole opera, the whole thing, because once it’s done because it’s such a complex and huge show that I can’t focus on one thing but rather all the contributing moments.
How are adjusting to your new position here? What are your responsibilities?
Daniel Knapp: I’m adjusting great; it’s full of surprises in a good and interesting way. The whole scope of coming to a new country and a new working environment offers a multitude of perspectives. It’s been very welcoming so far and very intense, so it feels a lot more like I’ve been here a year and half rather than just a few months.
I’m responsible for overseeing all the productions at SFO— all the scenic elements, costume shops, sound and technical departments and all the labor that’s involved, which is all the talent on the stage plus the electricians and all the support staff…so, it’s quite a scope. I’ve met a lot of people who have a certain sense of responsibility for this company, who identify with it and who have been here much longer than me. They’ve introduced me to the company culture and what necessary changes could be made and how we can achieve those as a team over the next 3, 5, 15, or however many, years to stay up with the world class opera companies.
With “Troyens” up first, followed by the world premiere of “Two Women,” it’s kind of a trial by fire for you. What’s the most demanding part of your job right now?
Daniel Knapp: I’m a little in both fire and water trials right now. I’m from a country that has plenty of drinking water and lakes on our doorstep and coming to Northern CA, and being in the middle of a drought, is also a big trial. To be able to make use of all the technology and intellectual capital that surrounds us here and to engage the techies is another exciting challenge for our opera company. With respect to the work load, at the Bregenzer Festival in Austria, I was always overseeing two productions; last summer it was three productions, one of which was The Magic Flute on the floating stage. I was also very involved with the pre-production of Turandot that will premiere on July 22. So that’s heavy experience with large-scale productions on the lake, in the open air, and it’s a bit of a different scale. We had many international co-productions as well with companies in Europe and the US, so I am quite used to doing multiple wedding dances at the same time. That was exciting but the requirements of a concentrated festival versus a company that is doing performances year-round are different. What I love here is that we have an interwoven schedule so that the three monumental productions— The Trojans, the world premiere of Two Woman and the revival of the classic, Figaro, in an adapted version, Figaro, will all be able to fit on stage. That was a lot to step into.
How did you prepare for this opera? Did you do extensive reading or do you mainly execute and manage?
Daniel Knapp: My learning process is the interaction with the artists, finding out what their real concerns are and looking behind the scenes. I’m not the guy who tries to be more prepared than the director and I don’t do the full research of the director or designers. However, when I have questions about why something is set-up a certain way and why something can’t be done, I get very involved. I always question creative teams about why they would want to emphasize something or not. I need to understand where they are coming from so that we can get the most from their art on stage. The great thing about my job is that, if I do it correctly, you don’t notice that I am there.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming fall season?
Daniel Knapp: Meistersinger of course! That’s because it’s another one of those monster shows with great music, a great designer, great artists…so that’s very nice. I’m also excited about Usher (Fall of the House of Usher) which is so theatrical. The great thing is that my former boss, David Pountney, is the director of that show, so I get to meet him under different circumstances, to collaborate and to actually tell him “no.”
Details: There are three remaining performance of The Trojans—Saturday, June 20, 2105, 6PM; Thursday, June 25, 6PM and Wednesday, July 1, 6PM. Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat. The June 25th and July 1st performance feature OperavVision, HD video projection screens in the Balcony level. For information about the SFO’s Summer 2015 Season, click here.
Love Lavender? Mataznas Creek Winery’s 19th annual “Days of Wine and Lavender” is Saturday, June 27, 2015
Nestled between three mountain peaks in Sonoma County’s bucolic Bennett Valley, the Matanzas Creek Winery and vineyard is home to over three acres of lavender gardens. Planted in 1991 and nurtured by the vineyard’s gardeners, these spectacular plants frame the entrance to the winery and are now in full bloom. On Saturday, June 27, 2015, from noon to 4 PM, Matanzas Creek celebrates its bounty with its festive 19th Annual Days of Wine & Lavender. The wonderful afternoon includes Matanzas Creek’s special wines, including its latest releases of crisp, aromatic Bennett Valley Chardonnay and its exclusive, hedonistic, Journey label which includes its 2013 Journey Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Bennett Valley Pinot Noir which has hints of rose petals. Attendance is limited at this special gathering, so guests never feel overcrowded as they stroll the expansive property, taking in the vineyards and the vibrant bust of purple. The healing fragrance of lavender wafts through the air while the bees buzz. Live music keeps the tempo celebratory as guests partake of special food and wine pairings to their heart’s content. Many of these creative gourmet delights are lavender themed.
There are photo booths, opportunities to paint in the lavender fields or just zone out in comfy lounge chairs and take in the view. Not only do I love this event for the food and wine, but it’s wonderful to stock up on Matanzas Creek’s lavender bath and body products which are made with the finest ingredients and beautifully packaged. The concentration/staying power of their fragrance and nurturing qualities are evident immediately and these products make wonderful gifts. Don’t miss the opportunity to bliss out by spritzing yourself with their amazing Lavender Mist. A personal favorite, used by all members of our household, is Matanzas Creek Lavender Blend After Shave Lotion which has warm spicy notes and leaves your skin as smooth as silk.
Good Deeds: The event benefits the Ceres Community Project, a non-profit that involves local teens as gardeners or chefs. Ceres aims to bring 88,000 nutrient-rich meals to those with serious illnesses or to those in need in Sonoma and Marin counties this year. For more information about Ceres and its wonderful classes, visit http://www.ceresproject.org/.
Details: Saturday June 27th, noon to 4 p.m. Tickets: $95 General Public and $75 Wine Club members. Advance ticket purchase is essential as the festival sells out in advance each year. To purchase tickets, click here. Matanzas Creek Winery is located at 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404 For more information, phone: 800 590-6464
San Francisco’s Silent Film Festival: celebrating its 20th anniversary with 20 gems and an added day—kicks off this Thursday, May 28, 2015
On Thursday, the beloved San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) returns to San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and runs through Monday with a program of rare silent-era gems—20 features and numerous additional fascinating clips—well worth the trip to San Francisco. This year, the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary and has added a full day of programming on Monday, including a free silent film trivia event hosted by Film Forum’s Bruce Goldman. From iconic silent film actors to fantastic restorations, this year’s lineup spans the far corners of the globe and delivers an outstanding mix from cinema’s golden age and American classics. SFSFF this presents these gems in all their glory as they were meant to be seen—on the big screen in the beautiful Castro theatre, a beloved San Francisco landmark built in 1992 during the silent era. Every film is presented with live musical accompaniment from musicians who live to breathe life into silent film and who will trek in from Colorado, New York, England, Germany and Sweden to perform at the Castro.
The festival’s spectacular historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling is what keeps me coming back year after year. It’s that and the audience, as you never know who you’ll end up sitting by. Last year, I sat by a wonderful Hollywood costume designer who gave me a fascinating blow by blow account of the special tailoring techniques used in many of the outfits on screen.
This year’s festival includes early films from China (1), France (3), Germany (2), UK/German (1), Norway (1), Sweden (1) and the USA (10). The line-up includes such rarities as the first Chinese film to screen in Norway; an early Swedish film about an young boy who has to learn to adapt to a step-mother and step-sister after his mother’s sudden death; the earliest known surviving footage of a feature film with black actors; two French films illustrating artistic and intellectual life in avant-garde 1920’s Paris; a silent version of Sherlock Holmes; and the first film to win Oscars for both Outstanding Production and Best Director (Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front). The Castro seats 1400 but these films are immensely popular, so do buy your tickets ahead of time to ensure you get a seat.
Festival director, Anita Monga, responsible for programming, adds “We are trying to represent the breadth and depth of the silent era, balancing drama and comedy and presenting things from around the world. Every year, there are more and more restorations of wonderful films that are being discovered. This year, we are presenting several restorations of films that were lost—Cave of the Spider Women, Sherlock Holmes (with William Gillet, the foremost interpreter of Sherlock on stage). We’re also doing 100 years in Post-Production…an important presentation about a film that was found at New York’s MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) with an all African-American cast that includes the great entertainer Burt Williams. Ron Magliozzi, the MoMA curator for the project, will be here narrating and sharing dozens of rare photographs too. We’ve added an extra day and new free programs that will engage the audience. We’re offering a very rich experience that is set to live music.”
Full festival schedule here.
Details: SFSFF runs Thursday, May 28, 2015 through Monday, June 1, 2015 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Tickets: $16 for all films, except opening night film which is $22. Passes to all films (Opening Night Party not included) are $260 general and $230 for San Francisco Silent Film Society members (lowest membership level is $50). Click here for tickets. Click here for passes and membership info. Information: (415) 777-4908 or www.silentfilm.org.
Parking Alert: If you plan on coming by car, street parking is the only parking available. Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking in the Castro district and walking to/from the theatre. Plan on arriving at the theater at least 15 minutes prior to the screening.
April and May belong to old roses. Whether they climb a fence, or explode on their own with gorgeous sprays of colorful and fragrant blooms, they are a source of pure delight. With names that run the gamut from “Tuscany” to “Ispahan” to “Baron Girod d l’Ain,” heritage roses evoke history and poetry. Rose lovers will get their fix this Sunday at El Cerrito’s annual Celebration of Old Roses, one of the few remaining places where we can see, smell, talk and purchase old roses. The annual spring event is sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group (HRGBA) and takes place this Sunday at the El Cerrito Community Center from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Officially, old roses, or antique roses, are varieties that date from 1860 or earlier. Their attractiveness grows from their wonderful rich and varied fragrances and graceful growth habits which make them ideal for the garden and disease resistance. Once established, many are drought tolerant too, so in these times when many are culling plants to save water, an old rose can make sense. For those feeling too guilty to think of planting in these times, the celebration in El Cerrito is a chance to see it all without the responsibility of ownership. Much like a delightful old-fashioned country fair, people gather round to ohh and ahh its focal point—a 100-foot plus display of freshly picked old roses in old-fashioned mason jars, all in glorious states of bloom. The roses are organized by class—gallicas, centifolias, damasks, mosses, hybrid chinas, bourbons, portlands, chinas, teas, eglantines, floribundas and others. There is ample opportunity to explore the nuances of each variety—fragrance, color, size, petal count, foliage and growth habit.
In addition to the display, rose experts who have made it their mission to save and perpetuate this diverse group of plants will be on hand to answer questions.
Have a rose that you can’t identify? Just put a complete cutting (full bloom, bud and some foliage) in a jar and bring it to the event and the experts will try to identify your rose.
Vendors will also be selling rare perennials, and crafts, china, books, greeting cards, calendars, honey, jam, jewelry, and clothing, all inspired by roses. Tool sharpening will also be available on site, so bring your clippers and loppers. This year, all children attending the event will receive a free rose plant, courtesy of Tom Liggett and HRGBA.
noon talk “Where have all the Roses Gone,” Gregg Lowery, Sonoma County Rosarian — With the general downsizing of nurseries, the 2014 closure of Sebastopol’s globally acclaimed Vintage Gardens, which sold hundreds of rare heritage roses, we’re all wondering where have all the roses gone? Lowery will talk about what’s happened, what the prospects are for buying and preserving heritage roses in the future and the importance of roses to human history and culture.
Details: El Cerrito’s Celebration of Old Roses, Sunday May 17, 2015, El Cerrito Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane, El Cerrito. 11 am to 3:30 p.m. Free. If you plan to buy roses or plants, bring cash. For more information, call Kristina Osborn at The Heritage Roses Group (510) 527-3815 or visit http://www.celebrationofoldroses.org
J.J. Wilson, Jonah Raskin, Julie Lee and Terry Ehret discuss the 2014 Sitting Room Publication, This is What a Feminist Looks Like, with host Gil Mansergh on Word by Word, Sunday, Sept. 7, 4pm, on KRCB, 91 FM and www.KRCB.org. Participants will discuss their responses to the anthology’s topic “When I first realized I was a feminist” which was the catalyst for 46 revelatory essays .
The wait for a commercial electric car is over – the first Nissan Leaf is rolling in Sonoma County and I’m driving it
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.
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.
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.
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.
The San Francisco Zoo’s newest resident is a 3,700 male hippopotamus that arrived from the Topeka Zoo on Wednesday evening, January 5 and made his press debut on Friday. Last August, the male hippo, named “Tucker” in Topeka, and his mate welcomed a new son at the Topeka Zoo. But three hippos require quite a bit of room so the search began for a new home for the 8 year old adult male. The San Francisco Zoo hasn’t had a hippo since “Mama Cuddles,” its 46-year-old female Nile Hippo died three years ago. After she passed, the zoo began a massive renovation of the hippo exhibit to create a pool three times larger and with a new dry land pasture area. With a newly renovated space, operation hippo transfer began. Federal Express donated the shipment of the 3,700 pound hippo, and the San Francisco Department of Public Works transported him to the Zoo.
The hippo’s journey began at the Topeka Zoo where he was crated for his long trip then driven to Kansas City International Airport on a Westar Energy flatbed trailer and had an overnight stay in a warm building. On Wednesday, FedEx Express flew him by cargo plane to its Memphis, Tenn., superhub, then to its hub at the Oakland Airport. Memphis-based FedEx Express is a subsidiary of FedEx Corp.. Zoo Assistant Curator Jim Nappi was on hand to greet him at the airport and feed him some welcoming apples. Although the journey was long and he spent 45 hours in a crate, he gingerly backed out of the crate and into his night quarters and was ready to meet his fans in the morning. To see the San Francisco Zoo’s footage of his uncrating and first swim, click here: http://www.sfzoo.org/openrosters/view_homepage.asp?orgkey=1859
The hippo’s public access will be limited until he adjusts to his new home.
At its annual fundraiser on April 29, the Zoological Society will seek “parents” for the hippo who will have the honor of bestowing him with a name.
The San Francisco Zoo has no plans to breed the new hippo and reported that he will not be sharing his space with any other hippos either. While hippos live in large groups called “pods,” they are not social animals and sometimes become aggressive. Tucker, however, so far appears to be very mild-mannered. The zoo also reported that it is unlikely that Tucker will miss his previous mate or offspring. In the wild, hippos breed and then go back to their day-to-day activites in the pod. The male has no interaction with its offspring. The San Francisco Zoo’s former hippos, Puddles and Cuddles became acclimated to each other over a long period of time.
The hippopotamus, whose hide alone can weigh half a ton, can reach up to 3.5 tons in weight and is the third-largest living land mammal, after elephants and white rhinos. It can reach 13 feet long and 5 feet tall and has a lifespan of about 50 years. It was considered a female deity of pregnancy in ancient Egypt, but in modern times is no longer found in Egypt because of the damage it inflicts on crops. The hippo thrives in other parts of Africa.
Hippos move easily in water, either swimming by kicking their hind legs or walking on the bottom. They are well-adapted to their aquatic life, with small ears, eyes and nostrils set at the top of the head. These senses are so keen that even submerged in water, the hippo is alert to its surroundings. By closing its ears and nostrils, the adult can stay under water for as long as six minutes. The zoo’s new hippo has taken to his large new pool like a fish to water.
About the San Francisco Zoo Encompassing 100 acres, the historic San Francisco Zoo is Northern California’s largest zoological park. The Zoo is home to exotic and rescued animals from all over the world and is located across from the Pacific Ocean. Winter Hours through March 12, 2011: The Zoo is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (last entry at 3:30 p.m.) and is located at 1 Zoo Road, San Francisco. Tickets: from free to $15.00. Phone (415) 753-7080 or visit http://www.sfzoo.org for more information.
Art takes many forms. Tonight’s World Series game was a spectacular performance…with the combination of Giant’s pitching ace Tim Lincecum’s 8 inning torrent, a 7th inning a home run by Edgar Renteria that brought in two Giants teammates on base, and Brian Wilson’s confident 9th inning closing pitches, the Giants won tonight’s game again the Texas Rangers 3-1 and their first World Series chamionship since 1954. I am proud of our champions.