Burns, Baby, Burns
I learned something of great importance the other night: Scots are not the Other. They put their kilts on one leg at a time like the rest of us. The occasion of this epiphany was a dinner in the Westin Galleria to honor the Scottish bard Robbie Burns. One of the great lyric poets, Burns turned out a mountain of work, even writing an ode in praise of haggis. Scots think the world of haggis, only serving it on special occasions -- Burns's birthday on January 25 being one, and Hogmanay (New Year's Eve) another.
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Evelyn Waugh once described Hogmanay as men throwing up on the streets of Edinburgh. A slander, I don't doubt. Certainly, it was hard to imagine the people at the Burns dinner throwing up in Edinburgh. Or anywhere else, for that matter. They struck me as models of rectitude. The Scots are a good-looking race. Broad-shouldered, big-armed, backs ramrod straight.... And that's just the women. "We're a matriarchy, you know," a matron said. But the men seemed equally capable -- despite the fact that many were wearing kilts. I don't know how they do it. When I'm deprived of my trousers, I feel very vulnerable.
For all their rectitude, they didn't lack passion. When the Houston Highlanders made their entry, bagpipes skirling, chests everywhere began to heave. "Stirring stuff," said the woman next to me. "It makes the blood course." One man, looking very flushed, said he was glad that Windsor Castle was nowhere in the vicinity, because, if it were, he'd have no choice but to storm it.
The Burns dinner was attended by some 700 people, according to a member of the Heather and Thistle Society, making it one of the largest events of its kind in the world. The keynote speaker was a Burns expert flown in from Scotland, who, after expressing himself well-pleased to be in "Who-ston," went on to describe the poet as if he were all four evangelists and the Virgin Mary rolled into one. But I'm not complaining. There are worse things than hyperbole.
You can make haggis, if you'd care to. All you need are the heart, lungs, liver and stomach of a sheep (check your local Kroger's) along with suet and plenty of oatmeal. Now, don't say it sounds off-putting. You've eaten worse. I found it delicious. It tasted like the white puddings the Irish eat for breakfast. Traditionally, haggis is served with mashed turnips and a good malt whiskey. For the poet's birthday, we made do with filet mignon and a nice merlot.