Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Way beyond the Birds & the Bees...

This past Sunday might have been the first Valentine's Day hubby & I went out to dinner since our first year together, and it was really a very enjoyable evening. For our 10th anniversary together I booked us tickets to the MN Zoo's "Love Tour," a special adults-only view of the zoo followed by dinner in Discovery Bay. I didn't really know what to expect - other than the menu, the website was pretty scarce on the particulars. We weren't sure if it would be inside or out, whether to dress up, and somehow I missed that the whole focus of the tour was mating rituals, though in retrospect it makes sense. Apparently the idea was started with the San Diego Zoo and now all across the country it's become a fun adult night out.

It was a snowy, slippery evening on the roads, so traffic was not fun. I had neglected to do laundry for several years, so I had nothing to wear and hated my hair. And I still wasn't sure if we should dress up or not, but somehow we made it to the zoo in plenty of time. When we arrived we were told that - Hooray! - it was all inside. The tour was strictly in the "Tropics" area, and the dinner was in Discovery Bay, all within the same building. Excellent.

As for dress code, we saw people on all points of the spectrum - from cocktail dresses and ties to jeans and sweaters. We were somewhere in between. I'd say about anything goes, it just depends on what you want your night to be.

We hung our coats and headed up to meet our tour, where were were greeted with complimentary champagne and photos! It was a great start. I'll be honest, I had really expected to be nickled and dimed (especially since it was a fundraiser) but I never reached for my purse all night - everything was included in the ticket, it was very convenient. They even gave us all a souvenir photo in a nice little folder. I look unenthused, but isn't hubby adorable?

Then it was off for our tour! I forget our guide's name, but she was very nice. The tours are all lead by staff who volunteer for the event because it raises funds for travel and other zoo business. They take groups of 10 couples/20 guests at a time so everyone can gather round and hear the juicy stories. Just as we entered, we were greeted with three butler-passed hors d'ouvres - here's a pic of the bacon wrapped shrimp, which was really tasty:

It was a little awkward juggling my champagne, camera, napkin, purse, and three appetizers, one of which was large and flaky. I would have definitely preferred if the appetizers were spaced out along the tour rather than all up front, but hey, it's for charity. And they were really good - even picky me not only tried but devoured them all!

I have probably already forgotten the best parts, but here is some of the trivia I learned on our "Love Tour:"

We started with turtles. According to our guide, the male approaches the female and basically pokes and annoys her like a schoolyard crush, until she sucks her head into her shell to get away. Because there isn't a ton of room in the shell, this means her rear end pokes out - at which point the male slowly makes his way back there to accomplish his business. But, since turtles are so slow, sometimes by the time he makes it around she's popped her head back out - and hidden the goods. Apparently this can go on for 30-40 times before both parties end up in the right place at the right time. And now you know.

Komodo Dragons are supposedly the most dangerous animal to be bitten by at the zoo - they have so much bacteria in their mouths that they don't even try to kill their prey right away - they take a few bites, and know it won't be long before their dinner falls dead from infection. They keep up this bacteria level by eating the lower intestines of their prey - which most animals avoid. BUT, these animals also have very human-like hands with long fingers - in the same general purportions as we do. Our tour guide actually called them "gentle lovers," because despite the biting and clawing, they also engage in "a lot of foreplay and stroking with those long fingers." Apparently the male comes on to the female by stroking her back, if she doesn't bite his head off, he goes for it. And really, isn't that how most relationships work? :)

The gibbons weren't on display right now because they are basically in family therapy. Tia, the female, is an unfit mother. After her first pregnancy, she birthed the baby and then instead of bonding, she threw it across the room for hurting her. That baby was sent to the National Zoo with a foster monkey. Tia was actually put on Depo Provera for a few years, like a human. But recently she birthed another baby whom she hasn't harmed, but also hasn't bonded with. They're off display as the zookeepers try to create a familial bond, but it looks like baby #2 will be off to the National Zoo too. Kind of a downer part of the tour, but in general the gibbons are great entertainment. They have sex frequently "despite whatever school group is watching," and also engage in a lot of self gratification. Apparently Tia is so insatiable that they've documented her male partner (who used to shtoop her mother, to make this even more of a monkey soap opera) physically SIGHING when Tia sticks her butt in his face to indicate it's go time. But I guess he still sucks it up and gets the job done.

The only two animals who were actually "feeling the love" during our tour were these two gay turtles (they unhooked just as I got close enought to snap a photo, drat!). Apparently there is a large effort to "trade" gay zoo animals to create love matches wherever possible - we heard about camels, swans, and several other species who have been juggled around between various zoos and societies to allow for coupling of homosexual animals. And apparently tigers have been known to swing both ways, engaging in homosexual behavior when there is a lack of female partners available to them, and changing that behavior when a hetrosexual mate is available.

Pigs, like this dude with the mohawk, literally "screw." Males have spiral genitalia, and females have "oddly shaped cervixes." I'm sure you can find a diagram on the Internet somewhere.

There was more, much more, but it's all a jumble in my brain. I know there was discussion of bird parts which likened their "bow-chicka-wow-wow" to bagels - his with cream cheese, hers without, and at some brief point they are smushed together in a "kiss." Also, most birds only have one ovary and one teste - as our guide said, gotta streamline everything in order to be light enough to fly! Some animals are actually shown "porn" to instruct them on how mating should work - specifically giant pandas and sun bears came up in the discussion as being "taught" how to make whoopie after watching videos of wild animals. And I distinctly remember our guide using the transition "speaking of testes, here's something interesting right this way!"

It was really a fun tour, and totally worthwhile to see the zoo without screaming children dripping ice cream and goo all over the displays while yelling at the animals. The hour went by quickly, and as you can tell, we all learned quite a bit :)There were a ton more animals and behaviors that I didn't document, so there is a lot more to learn if you decide to go. And there will actually be a lot more "monkey love" on the tour next year, as a new section of primates from Africa are currently being built!

After the tour, we were presented with a few tables of animal sex trivia - match the penis to the animal, artificial insemination, and a looped video they called "dolphin porn" of two dolphins caught on tape (apparently this is very exciting). Because of the late hour we didn't linger at these tables, we were ready for dinner.

Our table was right next to the shark tank, which was great! We had a gorgeous view and soft light from candles as well as the aquarium. The tables were all little intimate tables for two, and they were really spaced out well. All but one we saw had a great view of at least one of the tanks, and even the table without the view was eventually moved to a better spot. A live jazz trio played in the background, and the whole mood was very calm and enjoyable. MUCH nicer than a frantic over-crowded restaurant would have been!

Our tour let out just as the 2nd dinner seating was to begin, so all of the tables were set and ready. The event was sold out, but I didn't think it was crowded at all - it was really a very nice, relaxed feel.

The rolls were good, set on a plate with a tiny purple flower and decoratively formed butter balls, the meal was off to a good start. We were offered more champagne, again included with the meal. I would have liked to have additional beverage options, even if that meant paying for them, but it was probably easier not to deal with any money handling from their side of things.

The salads were already waiting before we sat down...which is never a good sign. It was nice to be able to dig right in, but a salad is most enjoyable when it is crisp and cold. These were almost warm, which meant they were pretty limp and faded by the time we got to eat them. The dressing was an interesting Asian-fusion that I didn't hate, and the sesame stick again suffered from a lack of freshness (not at all crispy anymore, boo).

I almost forgot to take a photo of the entrees, so forgive my sliced open steak. It was very well done, by which I mean over cooked and kind of disappointing, but what can you expect from a catered meal that has been held in warming racks for hours...It had interesting seasoning and I still ate it, but I couldn't help but wish it were medium rare instead. Or even medium. But it wasn't awful and I ate most of it. I skipped my fish, but hubby ate both portions, and said it was good. Both of our favorite parts were the baby red potatoes decoratively cut to look like mushrooms. I'm not sure it was worth the effort, since under the candlelight I thought they actually WERE mushrooms at first, but once I figured it out they were quite tasty. I'll be honest, I didn't waste time on the baby vegetables either.

I had my eye on these big slabs of crem brulee cheese cake. Mmmmm. Again, I was disappointed that they were on the tables from the start, since I strongly prefer a chilled, solid cheesecake and these were getting a little melty and foamy...but they were still very good. We took our time with coffee and dessert, despite the snow building up on the roads outside, and nobody rushed us along.

Take home favors from Max Chocolates - a pair of heart-shaped truffles.

All in all, we had a really nice time, and I'd definitely recommend this event. The food wasn't the best, but it wasn't awful - and the atmosphere was definitely much more comfortable than a restaurant on Valentine's Day. It was expensive at $175/couple, but that includes a $65 charitable component (tax write off), and from there if you figure the tour at $20 each, the dinner ends up being about $35 each - it was all definitely worth it in those increments. It would be an especially good choice for a "new" couple - a slight break from the norm, still a fairly grand gesture, lots of time to talk and cast moon eyes at each other, with a definite sexual undertone. If we went again we'd probably go earlier - we're too old to be eating that late, let alone on a Sunday. The event has sold out for several years, so look for it early if you are interested.

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