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John Kelly's Washington

Sex and the Wrong City

By John Kelly
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page C11

Did you hear about the pandas in San Diego? That's right: They mated. Twice. In their favorite spot.

Who knew that pandas even had a favorite spot? But Gao Gao and Bai Yun, San Diego's pandas, do. They fooled around there behind the bushes for 15 minutes one day last week and then for 30 minutes the next day. Now zoo officials are hoping that the female, Bai Yun, the only panda to be naturally inseminated in the United States this year, will give birth this summer.

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Meanwhile, our pandas, well, let's just say our pandas are good friends. They like each other, but not that way.

"He just couldn't get the alignment down," said the National Zoo's Peper Long, of our male panda, Tian Tian, and his efforts earlier this year. "That might get better with time. It certainly was better this year than last year, and we're hoping it will be better next year than this year."

Well I suggest that perhaps the problem isn't the pandas. Maybe the problem is the city they live in.

Is it possible that Washington just isn't conducive to love? Or, more accurately, lust?

San Diego's pandas are regular baby machines. Bai Yun has already produced two baby pandas -- one the natural way, one by artificial insemination -- and now she has tried for her third.

As for Washington, we know its sad reproductive history as far as pandas are concerned. Does "D.C." stand for "Don't Copulate"? Is Washington -- the city of marble monuments and bad traffic, of cloture and the filibuster -- frigid?

"I don't think the pandas are so much aware of that," Peper said. "You could make a case for Washington not being the most horribly romantic city in the world, although the Weekend section of The Post had a story a week or so ago about how Washington is pretty dang romantic."

The Weekend section? Should we believe those hometown boosters?

How about the slightly more impartial readers of Travel and Leisure magazine? They ranked Washington dead last out of 25 U.S. cities as the ideal destination for a "sexy getaway," behind even Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Washington fared slightly better as the place for a "romantic getaway," edging out Los Angeles and Houston for 23rd place.

San Diego was ranked ninth as a sexy getaway and sixth as a romantic getaway. Honolulu took top honors in both categories. (Washington did rank first for "standout museums and historic sites." Gee, thanks.)

Or maybe this whole absence makes the heart grow fonder thing really is true. Like feuding neighbors forbidding their children to see each other, San Diego's zookeepers keep their pandas apart for much of the year.

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