Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Toast to Robert Burns

January 25, 2010 marked the 251st anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, the great Scottish poet. I became more familiar with Burns’ poetry thanks to a friend of mine who until recently lived in Brooklyn. My friend Roger Paz, a Peruvian Jew with no Scottish ancestry that I know of, threw a party on the Saturday closest to Burns Night every year.

He would travel to New Jersey to a special butcher shop that could provide him with an American approximation of a traditional haggis. People would show up with food, books of Robert Burns' poems, and copious amounts of alcohol. At any time during the party, someone could shout, “Poem!” and the music would be paused and everyone would gather around as they read a Burns poem. Roger had someone read ‘Address to a Haggis’ as he ceremoniously cut the haggis after it was done cooking. It was delicious, and those were some of the best parties I’ve ever attended.

Several years ago, months after attended one of the Burns Night parties, I found myself in Milwaukee on a work assignment. After work I visited several pubs not far from the Lake Michigan waterfront. Seeking the comforts of the great Scottish bard, I ambled away from one pub with pint of fine ale and sought refuge at the foot of a statue of Robert Burns. There I was inspired and with a pen and paper I wrote what was most likely incoherent and scrawling poetry.

My friend Roger left Brooklyn for the urban frontier of Detroit, where he had lived for some time before coming to New York. But his love of Burns’ poetry is as strong as ever, and he has kept the spirit of his Burns Night alive through many Internet postings.

Recently, it was reported that authentic Scottish haggis, which is still not available in the United States, may soon be allowed here. Hopefully, by this time next year, I will find a Burns Night feast to attend and dine on some authentic Scottish haggis. See you there.


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