Sunday, January 31, 2010

The 212th good thing about Lagos: An evening of Scottish celebration

This is the photo of the Scottish poet Robert Burns which was hanging from the podium during the Burns Night Ball, held last Saturday evening. Burns is the acclaimed 18th century poet so beloved by Scots everywhere that all over the world this past week, Scots were celebrating the anniversary of his birth by addressing the haggis, the ladies, and the whisky -- all things which Burns enjoyed during his life. We were invited to join the table organized by Brent's boss who, though French, has adopted a love for Scottish culture and is an avid player of bagpipes.

I think men look great in kilts, and their furry man-purses are quite cute. There was a great variety of Scottish garb -- many kilts and other plaid-panted men.


I really enjoyed experiencing all the traditions involved with a Burns Night. There was a bagpipe-led procession with the Chieftain and other officials of the Caledonian society, then toasts and the singing of national anthems. A band had been flown in from Scotland to provide some live music for the dancing. Scottish dancing is quite a bit like American square dancing. I haven't learned any of the intricate dances, so we enjoyed watching them, and we just danced during some of the regular ballroom kind of dances.

The first course of dinner was haggis, accompanied by mashed potatoes and carrot puree. I had been apprehensive about trying haggis, but actually found it quite palatable -- a lot like sausage. But, like sausage, it's probably better to not think about what it is and how it is made. From glancing at the Wikipedia article about haggis I did learn about the sport of "haggis hurling," which involves throwing a haggis as far as possible. I picked up the important trivia tidbit that the world record for haggis hurling has been held since 1984. A 1.5 lb. haggis was hurled for 180 feet, 10 inches. I quite enjoyed the haggis and ate it without any hurling involved. The haggis had also been brought in from Scotland, presumably by airplane and not hurled.


Before the haggis was served, there was a little procession of the haggis on a platter carried by a woman in a period costume who represented "Posy Nancy," one of the many women who featured in Burns' life. There was a recitation of Burns' poem "Address to a Haggis."
The poem begins:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my airm.
And here's the verse translated in an idiomatic transation easier to understand (don't tell me you understood what he was saying in that original dialect -- I won't believe you):

Nice seeing your honest, chubby face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Belly, tripe, or links:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.
After the haggis toasting and eating, there was more dancing, followed by more traditional courses of banquet food. There was a speech to toast "The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns." The speech was offered by a friend of mine -- he did a great job. I asked for a copy of it so I could read it slowly and decipher some of the Scottish dialect bits that passed me by. To give you a sample of Burn's poetry along with an example of some of the humor of the evening, here's
the joke that began his immortal memory speech:
An Englishman is being shown around a Scottish hospital. At the end of his visit, he is shown into a ward with a number of patients who show no obvious signs of injury. He goes to examine the first man he sees, and the man proclaims: "Fair fa' yer honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain e' the puddin' race!" The Englishman, somewhat taken aback, goes to the next patient, and immediately the patient launches into: "Some hae meat, and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it!" This continues with the next patient: "Wee sleekit cow'rin tim'rous beastie, O what a panic's in thy breastie!" "Well," the Englishman mutters to his Scottish colleague, "I see you took me to the psychiatric ward." "Na, na,laddie" the Scottish doctor corrects him, "this is the Serious Burns unit."
After dinner there was more piping and dancing and celebrating. There were humorous (and a bit ribald) speeches toasting "the lassies" and a response on behalf of "the lassies."


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We were urged to stay till midnight, as then there was the traditional rendition of "Auld Lang Syne," one of the many song lyrics penned by Burns. Those present joined in a circle and clasped hands. At a certain point in the lyrics, the hands are crossed and circle starts closing in to the center and then moving back out. We were pulled in and out quickly and just about lost our footing in the motions. It definitely was the liveliest "Auld Lang Syne" I've ever experienced!
Those Scots know how to party! We really enjoyed our very first Burns night!

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