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To Rabbie!

Eben Harrell
Will Lamont blows the pipes. Paul Conrad photo.
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Scotland in January is a dark, menacing country.It is besieged on both sides by black, angry seas, and ghosts from hundreds of shipwrecks creep onto land through the inky mists. In the Highlands are hills where villages were razed and the poor driven to New World ships like sheep to the cull.

But on a sunny, un-Scottish Saturday in Aspen, all this seemed worlds away. After a day skiing Aspen Highlands in kilts, with plenty of scotch and loose jokes to share, a group of approximately 100 expatriates, visitors and Americans with tartan heritage gathered around minced sheep’s stomach for a ceremony honoring their country’s most beloved poet.Saturday was Aspen’s sixth annual Burns Supper, an event that marks the birth of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns is a beloved figure in Scotland, with nearly every town and village proudly bearing his statue.He was an 18th-century poet who lived deeply, partied hard and wrote beautifully. “To Rabbie!” is as familiar a Scottish toast as “Slangevar” – Gaelic for good health.The Scots honor his birthday with a procession of bagpipes, a ceremonial reading of his poem “To a Haggis” and a dinner of haggis (minced sheep offal with oatmeal) and “nips ‘n tatties” (parsnips and potatoes).Oh yeah, and a wee bit of scotch, too.

The Aspen event held at the home of Brush Creek resident Adrian Burns is organized each year by Tim Harris, a red-haired (and as he drinks increasingly red-faced) Scot from Troon who has lived in Aspen since arriving as a ski bum in 1986. Harris said that while the first Burns suppers consisted of only fellow countrymen, now anyone who claims even the slightest connection to Scotland or to the host receives an invitation.”We Scots take any excuse to party, so I sent out hundreds of invites,” Harris said. “It’s quite a gathering and it’s growing every year. We had no idea when we started that it would grow to over a hundred.”On Saturday, a satisfying quota of partygoers wore kilts, but everyone made a stab at authenticity, even if a plaid logging shirt was the best they could muster. Most guests brought along one of Scotland’s famous whiskeys – “Glinfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenheadache,” one reveler quipped.Partygoers from all walks of life were in attendance. A Red Mountain millionaire shared drinks and stories with a waiter who serves him in town. The cars outside ranged from old beaters to BMWs.While most attendees shared some Scottish heritage, the common connection was a willingness to get drunk with the hosts.

“I’ve never been to the old country, but my wife’s English so that qualifies me,” said Jason Beavers, a fast-talking Texan in jeans and cowboy boots. The reading of “To a Haggis” was performed by Iain McKie, a native Glaswegian who said he went to many Burns ceremonies in Scotland, but was “unlikely to remember any of them for obvious reasons.”McKie came to the party with his wife, Melissa, a small blonde from New Orleans. They are a strange mix – scotch with a splash of bourbon – but Iain said he loves to share Scottish culture with her.”A lot of Burns suppers are men-only, and they turn out to be quite rude affairs,” he said. “So when there are women it’s a touch more conservative. I don’t mind. It will be fun to share it with Melissa.”McKie’s reading was accompanied by bagpiper Will Lamont, a builder from Carbondale. Lamont said he learned to play the pipes as a child growing up in Denver. Burns suppers give him the opportunity to dust them off.

“It’s such a neat event,” Lamont said. “It’s a great opportunity to let loose each year. I have to keep my drinking to a minimum until after dinner, though. Playing the pipes is tough work.”It’s a shame, or maybe not, that Scotland’s celebration of one of its greatest cultural contributions is marked internationally by raucous partying. For a country trying to position itself internationally as a respected state (Scotland recently instituted its own parliament), it can’t exactly help.But as Harris pointed out to the guests in his dinner toast, Burns would have encouraged such a party, with its diverse mix of Aspenites. Burns was a product of the Scottish Enlightenment, a movement that placed man’s reason and innate capacity above distinctions of class, nationality and religion. To Burns, “a man’s a man” no matter where or how he lives.What better way to celebrate that than through a party? Slangevar!Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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