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Spelunky Monkeys in Washington D.C.

March 9, 2014

%22Above Washington, D.C.%22 by Zhong-Yang Huang at Mandarin Oriental 2014My favorite painting in Washington D.C. is as random as its location. Defying all expectations, Southwest D.C. has a world-class Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Some far-sighted developer bet that building a multi-million dollar hotel on an inconveniently-located piece of property by the Southeast Freeway a decade ago wasn’t totally weird or anything. Thank goodness.

The hotel is beautiful. Loads of people stay there, and it’s a great launching point for viewing Tidal Basin cherry blossoms or visiting the museums downtown or getting on the Metro for anywhere else (okay, maybe it’s not so inconveniently located). Southwest residents have even been known to venture into the hotel’s restaurants. I sometimes lurk in the hotel lobby and sip on an overpriced beer while I write.

I only object to one thing about Southwest’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel – my favorite painting in the District should be more prominently displayed. Above Washington, D.C. by Zhong-Yang Huang hangs near the elevators.

The painting is based on Huang’s Above the Forbidden City in which the last Empress of China glides over Beijing. The Empress is on a swing a thousand feet up with nary a net in sight. Somehow, I’m okay with that. The Empress is a majestic and terrifying badass after all. The height doesn’t seem to bother her, and neither do the suicidal spelunky monkeys flying alongside her. She’s obviously smart. She’d never let them steal her shoes.

Here’s what freaks me out – what the heck is her swing attached to? A blimp? A spaceship? Does the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building have a hinged dome that falls aside so a pole shoots up  and deploys a canopy from which the Empress’ swing hangs? Is the Empress’ image from some strange future or some parallel present in which disguised manhua characters take over the nation’s Capitol? I have no idea, but I know the D.C. skyline well enough to be freaked out by whatever that swing’s attached to. And I need a better vantage point from which to contemplate the view east of the Capitol while I nurse that beer.

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