Monthly Archives: January 2013

Rabbie Burns – another thought

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With the success of Burns’ Suppers across Germany – and I believe in lots of other places, too – it makes me wonder exactly why this event has become so popular.

Surely the significance of Burns’ poetry from over two centuries ago, mostly written in a dialect that needs translating for even us native English speakers to understand it, can’t be the true reason. With growing globalization, where more and more countries and peoples are becoming “homogenized”, Anglo-Saxon-ized, and losing touch with the culture that is their natural habitat, does it indicate a need to return to traditions almost lost? Or is it in itself a part of the globalization process? Are we successfully being sold a product, a lifestyle?

Or is it just a great evening out, a chance to dress up and drink whisky? What do the Scots out there have to say? Or anybody else, for that matter.

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Filed under Fiction and Other Truths, Poetry, Seasonal Reflections, Traditions

Rabbie Burns Rules Okay – a Foray into a Familiar Foreign Culture

Some men in bow ties and dinner jackets, others wearing skirts shorter than most of the women have on. That was the scene Saturday night at the Masonic Lodge in Frankfurt (Main) that has served for 5 years running as the place to be come late January around the date of Rabbie Burns’ birthday.  On this evening real-live-Scots and some wannabes, plus fans of Scottish country dancing and, above all, lovers of whiskey, donned their glad rags for a humble supper of haggis, neeps ‘n’ tatties.  For the last four years, we have attended the Burns’ Supper, organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany, and think it a grand event for kicking off the year. Of course, a true Scot would have already done that on New Year’s Eve by celebrating Hogmanay, but this serves us foreigners magnificently.

As guests approach the Masonic Lodge on the Kaiserstrasse, they are greeted by the sound of bagpipes and drum. The next greeting comes in the form of a golden nectar served in the foyer. I’m not a whiskey drinker – although I love sniffing it – but this time they are offering a Glenlivet, a  smooth and mild tipple that even I savor.

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Besides being a sociable evening with friends, the event revolves around Celtic traditions and the veneration of Scotland’s best-loved poet. Robert Burns (1759-1796) is a cult figure among his compatriots. Despite his short life and his modest roots, he wrote poetry and lyrics in the Scottish tongue but also sometimes wrote in a more accessible dialect or standard English.  Rabbie was especially known as a lover of lassies and good whiskey. Which may partly explain his early demise.

Back to the haggis: For the uninitiated a haggis is a sheep’s stomach stuffed with ground innards, oatmeal and onions that is boiled in water and served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Considering I don’t generally eat innards, I find it tastes surprisingly good. Which must mean it tastes nothing like liver, heart and whatever.

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After the soup it’s time for said haggis. The piper pipes, the drummer drums and a procession enters the hall with the cook carrying the haggis aloft on a silver tray decorated with super-sized sparklers to electrify the darkened room. Then Clark McGinn, a genuine Scot flown in for the job, takes center stage and addresses the haggis by enacting Rabbie’s poem (“reciting” would be too understated a term). For us mere mortals, the only hope of understanding the words lies in reading the text in the program as Clark holds worth. (Sometimes the German translation is the only clue to the meaning.) Yet that would be a shame. Far better it is to  listen to the sound of the archaic words and their musicality and watch the performance by a master of the art. At that moment the actual meaning is secondary.

After hunger has been satisfied and while thirst is still being addressed, the speeches begin. Andrew McNeill is the man of the evening. Andy is the incarnation of everything Scottish: full dress kilt, jacket and sporn. A beret is perched atop his white mane that flows unstoppably into his long fluffy beard. I spoke to him in the foyer at the outset and he told me he’d be speaking but it would just be ad lib. Well, he may be a Scot, not an Irishman, but he sure possesses the gift of the gab. He entertains us regally. His tales of Rabbie, spoken in a Scottish that even I can comprehend, are interspersed with the poet’s songs sung by Craig Herbertson, a man with a perfect voice for Burns’ music.

The next tradition follows: The address to the lassies by Clark McGinn,  followed by the address to the laddies by Sarah Kelso. Both speakers understand their subjects and gladly tease and cajole with faint praise and well-aimed barbs. There’s nothing more to be done but reconcile the opposite sexes on the dance floor. The Frankfurt Scottish Country Dancing Club takes over and instructs the many willing participants in various choreographed dances. What feels like chaos at the start becomes a lilting dance experience. And the American in me clearly identifies the heritage from whence our square dancing developed.

But end the evening must, and how else but with a circle of guests singing Auld Lang Syne.

For some inexplicable yet understandable reason, Burns’ Suppers are proliferating all over Germany. Let’s charge our glasses and raise them for a final toast to Rabbie who made the world a more entertaining place and to the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany – especially to Susan Tackenberg and Neville Anderson – who sponsor and organize the event each year. Thanks so much for a glorious evening.

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Filed under Poetry, Seasonal Reflections, Traditions

WINTER DESCENDS UPON US

And we thought we’d get away with it, not having a freezing White Christmas, not needing extra layers of protection. No, Siberia has moved in from the east to send shivers up and down our spines. So while you await pronouncements on more significant matters such as gun control in the US and Britain’s love/hate affair with the EU, I suggest you ponder this baffling question: when will DC Hubbard finally settle down to work on her next novel? If that doesn’t do it for you, consider this ditty from last February’s arctic spell.

FEBRUARY 2012

 An ill-tempered diva

Comes late to the ball

Making bloody-well-sure

She’s seen by all.

She arrives from Siberia

On Putin’s east wind.

She’s set me ashiver

Right down to my skin.

The Land’s now as frozen

As my ancient computer,

The ground dry and shriveled

Like a seventy-year-old suitor.

The woods are snowless

Their breadth and their length,

Paths lit by sunrays,

Devoid of all strength.

Mummified me,

Sheathed in layer upon layer.

Thank God for Thinsulate.

It’s a real lifesaver.

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Filed under Poetry, Seasonal Reflections

OBITUARY FOR 2012 – The best of times, the worst of times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” So began Charles Dickens’ narrative in A Tale of Two Cities. It seems to me that opening could describe 2012 and just about any year to which you care to apply it, regardless of whether you are thinking of local, national or global events, or simply of your own life.

I won’t attempt to review the year’s public events. Much more capable media have already done that. It leads us to much head shaking in the knowledge of mankind’s foolishness and its unfathomable cruelty – especially to its own kind as exemplified in mass shootings in the US, gang rape in India and the torture of dissident thinkers across the world. So much for the worst of times. They just don’t seem to let up or go away.

The best of times – some pretty impressive things did take place in 2012, events that actually give rise to hope. Just one example: The London Olympics and Paralympics were a resounding success despite the fear that the public transport system could collapse under the onslaught of visitors and that the ever-present threat of terror attacks could lead to a catastrophe.  In the end the Olympics proved to be a global sports festival that contributed significantly to erasing the line between athletes and para-athletes.

In the end most of us judge a year based on our own personal gains and losses, successes and failures. For me, 2012 was a milestone with the publication in September of my debut novel, The Peace Bridge, a project on which I’d spent circa five years of my ever-shortening life.  It’s been exhilarating for me to hear from readers who enjoyed the story and understood its deeper sense, who have encouraged me to get on with my next novel, a prequel which will star Uncle Ezra.

But joy is often tempered by pain. During the last six months my mother-in-law suffered terribly from debilitating illnesses. And that we live in a different country from her complicated the situation immensely.  We’d made many additional trips over to England to visit her this past year. In fact, when the message came from the hospital, we were on the road once again, this time to spend New Year’s and her 87th birthday with her.  But she had passed peacefully in her sleep. We missed seeing her one last time by 9 hours. We so regret that she had to die alone. But at least her pain was over.

Addendum: Just to ensure I was quoting Dickens correctly, I looked up the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities. I had the first part verbatim, but I was intrigued by the entire paragraph and have pasted it in for you below. It truly gives us food for thought, not to mention that it is a killer start to a novel! (Now all I have to do is find a comparable one for my next opus…)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

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Filed under Beginnings, Endings, Fiction and Other Truths, Seasonal Reflections