‘It’s a Girl!’: a Panda Amid D.C.’s News and History

“It’s a girl!”

Living in Washington, it’s always difficult and tantalizing to juggle personal history with the kind that goes on right outside: a bus ride from the National Mall, a Metro ride to the Pentagon, a bracing walk to the White House, a jaunt along Embassy Row.

The world is with us always here in Washington in its various monumental manifestations, in the buzz that buzzes from the White House lawns, or those just walking by holding up signs. In Washington, we always live in several places at once—we live in our domicile, our hearth, heart and home, our block and neighborhood, where we work and how we work, in that great place just around the corner where the news always happen—world news, political news, foreign news, and news that seems foreign.

We recognize this more than ever during the course of a long, not-so-hot-around-here summer and its end” how the international, the national, the local and colloquial mash up.

So—“it’s a boy” was the long awaited news from London that Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, had a baby, heir to the British throne, which we all duly watched on the telly, read about—and continue to do avidly—in People and their ilk.

“It’s a girl” was a cry that echoed from a few blocks away the same time as it did over the air waves and the internet. It revealed the sex of the new panda cub, whose birth only a few days ago was met with universal jubilation that seemed every bit as precious as the news of the new prince. It was also related that Tian Tian was the father, and so the new cub is the daughter of Tian Tian (by way of artificial insemination) and Mei Xiang, and not Gao Gao, the wild boy from the San Diego Zoo who had been rescued from the wild by the Chinese.

The birth and identification of the new cub—may she live long and prosper—was an example of how big news here can be international. The Chinese, for sure, care about it, as do the thousands of visitors to the National Zoo who will have to content themselves with eyeing the “Panda Cam,” like the rest of us. But we who live in the city, and we who live just around the corner from the Panda domain, care a little more. It is, after all, a new kid in the neighborhood.

We, as does the rest of the world, receive this wee bit of news fully aware that people lately have been talking mostly about war, Syria, war crimes and air strikes—along with their efficacy, moral and practical. A lot of that talk is coming from right down the street on Pennsylvania Avenue, such that you think you can hear it echo sometimes. But a lot of that talk about Syria is also on the lips of Main Streeters all across the country, who are distressed about the pictures of dead children and who are less hungry to get into another mess in the region where we fought two long, costly and not all that fruitful wars.

We know where we live all the time—the city of monuments, memorials and momentous times and events where ripples from elsewhere—the not-guilty verdict in the Zimmerman-Martin case this summer—soon find their way into the halls of government, or are expressed in the remembrance and celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr., and his “I have a Dream” speech. Thousands of us went to the National Mall and others watched on television or saw or talked with the celebrants in our neighborhoods. Often, softly, and carefully, except perhaps at home, we talked about race, but rarely with people of different races than our own. In this city, which still has no voting representation in Congress, we are keenly aware of the echoes that we hear.

People—members of our elected government in the city council, our cultural and economic boosters and leaders—tell us we are living in a world-class city full of world class opportunities and life styles. We could be Parisians or New Yorkers, for all we know. I suspect, though, that we’re Washingtonians and the people that surround us in our neighborhoods, wondering if we could ever eat at all the new restaurants in our lifetimes, see all the new plays, hear all the new songs at both the 9:30 Club, Blues Alley and the Hamilton and drive out to Wolf Trap, too. We love the new bike racks, and curse the bikers, sometimes all at once. In our neighborhood in Lanier Heights, we are saddened about the disappearance of Romeo, the gray and white house cat at Joseph’s House.

Then, there are days or weekends, when we would rather be here than any place else in the world, real or imagined. To me, it was the weekend of the beginning of the celebration of the March, which was history up close and personal, once (or twice) as was the case for some, in a lifetime. The history-remembered songs and memories from that march weekend mixed in with the regular Sunday visit to the Dupont Circle market, for the pies, the crab cake man, the bouquet of flowers, the blueberry scone, and the couple from Virginia who make soup that flavor country with Asian tang and taste. I remember finding a CD at Second Story Books across the circle on P Street: “Eric Clapton: Me and Mr. Johnson,” the great blues player’s salute to the great blues man Robert Johnson. We came home and saw the grandfather across the street holding his son’s baby in his lap and waved.

The panda cub had just been born a day or so before.

And today: “It’s a girl!”

According to the National Zoo, the female cub “has a fat little belly.” Oh, happy day.


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