Friday, January 15, 2016

The New Yorker

Washington's Panda Obsession
By Robin Wright
     When I was little, I wanted a panda for my birthday. Last August 22nd, which happened to be my birthday, the National Zoo, in Washington, sent out an alert on e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook: its female panda, the gentle Mei Xiang, had gone into labor. I signed onto the zoo’s Panda Cam just in time to hear an eek-y squeal from the back stall where Mei had built her nest. It was the birth yelp of a baby boy. A four-ounce butter stick, pink-skinned and blind, slipped from his mom’s womb and slid across the floor.  
      There’s something about pandas, the world’s rarest bear, that captivates the famous, turns the powerful into putty, and wins over skeptics. In 1956, Elvis Presley travelled with a huge stuffed panda on a twenty-seven-hour train ride from New York to Memphis. On the first leg, the bear was photographed in its own seat. At night, the photographer Albert Wertheimer later recounted, the bear was strapped into the upper berth in Elvis’ compartment, its legs protruding through the webbing, as Elvis listened to acetates of his recent recordings in the lower berth. The next day, Elvis, not yet a national icon, perched the bear on his hip and used it to flirt with girls as he strolled through a passenger car.
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