Jan. 25 - We had another beer stroll Friday afternoon, but this time we concluded our travels at a cafe in my own neighborhood.
As my American friend and I parked our strollers on the sidewalk in front of a broad glass window, behind which we could plainly see an empty table, a woman seated at the table next to the one that had our eyes on suddenly glanced up at us nervously and threw a coat onto one of our prospective chairs.
"Hm," I said aloud, observing the behavior.
"Looks like she's trying to snag the table," my friend said.
"Hm," I said again, "hold on."
I walked into the cafe and straight over to the table we wanted. I glanced down at the coat on the one chair, then at the woman at the table beside it.
"You can't have that table," she said.
I looked around the cafe. There were free tables everywhere. The sixty-ish woman was sitting with a fifty-ish man at one of four available tables in the vicinity of the window table we so badly needed to keep an eye on the babies.
"But you're not sitting there," I observed superfluously.
"No," the woman agreed (she didn't have much room for denial), "but our friends are coming and it's important they have that table."
"Do they have babies?" I asked.
"No," she said, "but they want to sit there."
I looked around again and pointed to a perfectly unoccupied table beside me. It was the as close to this woman and her companion as the window table.
"Maybe they could sit here?" I offered. "They could still see out the window."
"No," she said, shaking her head, "no, it's important for them to have the window right there."
"But we have to watch our babies," I said. "And we're here right now."
"Unfortunately you cannot have that table," she said. Negotiations were over. She was not going to yield.
"That's just unbelievably selfish," I said. "You're crazy," I added, strangely.
I stormed out of the cafe and shook my head at my friend.
"Damn," he said.
As we got out wagon train back into motion and made our way toward the next cafe, I was suddenly overwhelmed with giddy excitement. The entire disagreement had taken place in Danish. Such ordinary Danish that the woman hadn't even tried to speak English, or correct me, or ask me to repeat myself.
It was the greatest milestone of my entire relationship with the Danish tongue.
For nearly two years I've been silently enduring one calamity after another, submitting to indignity after indignity with nary a peep—because I wasn't capable of emitting a peep that wouldn't tag me right away as some annoying foreign interloper.
Those days were officially over. If I wanted to, I realized with a flush of pride, I could even go back and call the woman a selfish bitch—yes, I actually know those words!
Anyway, just a few doors down we managed to find an open table with window access. I'm going to share a photograph of the cafe frontage just so my American readers can see that I'm not insane: you can see not only our two strollers, but two others, all four of them loaded with baby.
On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that the respect for strollers shown at most restaurants, bars, and cafes is hardly universal:
The sign, as you've probably guessed, means "Only for baby carriages."
Save the Haggis
(Note: This article is reprised each year as part of my ongoing effort to bring attention to this annual holocaust.)
January 25 is Burns Night in Scotland. The "Burns Supper" is eaten all across Scotland each year on the anniversary of the national poet's birth. It consists of haggis and whiskey. It is customary for the host to read Burns's Ode to a Haggis at the dinner table, presumably as a diversionary tactic. The poem concludes:
Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o'fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!
Haggis are a gentle breed of playful mammals indigenous to the Scottish highlands. They have never survived attempts at transplantation. They have been popular cuisine for as long as the British isles have been populated. Julius Caesar reflects in his memoirs that he tried to bring several thousand haggis back to Rome for breeding after his conquest of Brittania—a controversial decision that eventually led to civil war in the Roman Empire.
The ancient Picts of Ireland invaded and eventually settled Scotland in no small part because of their affinity for haggis. (The ancient Celts migrated in the opposite direction, presumably to avoid it.)
Haggis were traditionally trapped, killed, and prepared like most other small mammals. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, however, it became fashionable to drop living haggis, like lobster, into pots of boiling water.
This is because after boiling for half an hour the pelt peels off easily and can then be dried and used in textiles. Haggis fur is especially popular in Scottish gloves, coats, earmuffs, and seat covers.
Each year I have tried to bring some attention to the terrible plight of the delicate and sweet-tempered Haggis, whose inoffensive lives are too often ended by being boiled alive at the hands of a boozy Scot.
In today's frigid atmosphere of political correctness, it is considered unfair to condemn the Scots for their grotesque maltreatment of these affectionate animals. To deplore their treatment of the haggis is to criticize their culture, and cultural criticism is an obscenity.
But Scottish culture? We're all grateful for whiskey, but is it enough to justify bagpipes and men in skirts? Has any other culture cried out so eloquently for condemnation?
Try looking into the trusting brown eyes of a haggis and explaining that it must be boiled alive and ceremonially dismembered for the sake of Scottish culture.
According to People against the Indefensible Treatment of Haggis, more than eight million haggis were "ranched" for this year's festivities. Over six million of these ranch-bred haggis, beside whom veal calves might well be considered pampered, were sold to Scots who will take them home, boil them alive, then skin and dismember them. The nearly two million not sold will be tossed alive into commercial blenders, mixed with fresh cream, frozen, and later sold as the popular Scottish summer treat, Haggis Ice.
This holocaust must end. To help bring it home to Americans, I ask my American readers to take a moment to reflect on our own Groundhog's Day. Each February 2, we honor the prognosticative skills of that curious little creature in a vast national celebration of pagan superstition. How many groundhogs die for this celebration? None. How many groundhog mothers are separated from their groundhog children in order to satisfy our national groundhog needs? None. How many grandfathers stand at the heads of their dinner tables, proudly presiding over the dismemberment of a steaming groundhog carcass? Not very many.
The Scots could learn a thing or two about ethical animal treatment from us.
We could probably teach them a thing or two about trousers, too.
Stop the holocaust now. Sent your outraged emails to the presiding officer of Scottish Parliament.
* * *
Today is the birthday of Corazon Aquino (1933), Dean Jones (1931), Virginia Woolf (1882), and that father of mammalian genocide, Robert Burns (1759).
It's Flag Day in South Korea.
© 2005, The Moron's Almanac