Field Report:
The Tartan Ball, St. Andrew's Society
Diana DeRiggs

The St. Andrew's Society is a hereditary society, meaning you qualify for membership based on where you or your ancestors came from, or some other genetic-sort of aspect that you have no real control over. In this case, you need to be Scottish or a descendant of a Scot. This is not really a difficult requirement to fulfill, since it appears there are so many people of Scottish origin in the US. You can also join if you have served Scotland in some capacity, such as in the military. I know that Clan Gordon -- said to be the largest clan -- allows membership if you have ever served with the Gordon Highlanders. Someone told me he got membership for having been captured and held as a POW by that military group! So the rules seem to not exclude many people from joining in and having a good time. Oh, and you also have to be male.

I have a really dear friend who happens to be a cute and burly Scotsman, and he enjoys his "ethnicity" so much that he wears a full formal kilt out in full public view, for any reason. I like the idea of a man in a kilt (many WEB types will remember me by this fact; I also have a thing for men who wear wire-rimmed glasses), and a man who has one in his closet for use anytime -- and who actually knows how to put it on -- is irresistably sexy!

So I enjoyed oggling the men at the Tartan Ball, which is given by the St. Andrew's Society as part of their social calendar and to showcase their scholarship program winners. The Mt. Kisco Pipe and Drums were there, about 20 musicians with bagpipes, snare drums, etc. in full regalia. They performed throughout the evening. Real Scots are mesmerized by the noise and pagentry; my date could even be accused of needing to wipe his eyes from time to time. They marched in between courses and accompanied the Scottish dancing, surrounding the dancers by lining up around the dance floor for maximum impact, I suppose? Anyway, it was a lovely sight, very martial yet festive.

Just in case you're wondering, these aren't Braveheart kilts. These are formal, post-Jacobite, dress clothes, complete with rules on what goes where and what pins what. These are what you can wear to weddings, coronations, and with very few changes, you can wear them into battle, too. (At WEB, we talked about changing the dress uniform of the Rogues and Wraiths to kilts ...)

There was a lot of music, and the Society has an official piper as well, who played several times solo (bit less loud, believe it or not -- bagpipes are designed to be heard above the din of battle, and they can!). The Lester Lanin Orchestra also performed Big Band type of numbers, who played later in the evening when the Scots tried to be true to their stereotype and were full of excellent whiskey. All in all, very noisy, and with Scottish dancing also featured, it was a good way to work up an appetite.

The event was held at the Plaza Hotel in the Baroque Ballroom, with food provided by the hotel's catering staff. Hotel food is normally kind of patchy in quality, and this wasn't an exception. The menu included:
* cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leeks, but the Plaza translated this as a thin chicken broth with shreds of rather uncooked leeks and the occasional bit of chicken. It was awful and no one ate it.);
* smoked salmon "mold" mixed with slices of hearts of palm and asparagus, served with a white truffle sauce (a variation on the popular but now passé tartare of raw salmon or tuna found in other places. The idea of mixing it with vegetables to make a sort of salad was a bit weird, I think? It wasn't a mousse, just sliced stuff pressed together in a round ringmold -- a bit overdone);
* rack of lamb served with herbs (got two double chops per person, and they were good!);
* boiled new potatoes;
* tomato stuffed with puréed spinach (Awful pabulum! Dark seaweed green baby food squirted into a tomato that had been gutted of all flavor components);
* steamed and buttered haricot vert;
* baked chocolate mousse in filo purse with crème anglaise and fresh berries (No one ate this concoction, as far as I could see, except for the berries. The crème was passed around the table in a sauceboat. A bit of a strange treatment, considering that the other sauces for previous courses were not?).

I understand that the food wasn't the point of the evening, but it IS the Plaza, and the tickets for the event were about $250 per person, so I think a better effort could have been made here -- it's not hard to make decent food, after all. The lamb was good, at least, and the open bar seemed to be appreciated by those who enjoy a tipple. I know it's politically incorrect to drink these days, and that some people are not good or entertaining drunks. But the amount of "enhanced" fun to be had by everyone there could hardly be denied. I was relatively young when the drinking ages were raised in the state, so I only dimly remember friends and relatives getting soused at parties. It was a bit of a throwback, for me at least!

One member who owns a liquor business supplied the tables with expensive scotch whiskeys, and also cases of the stuff to give away as raffle prizes. My partner was delighted that I'd won one of the very expensive double-casked potions (Balvenie Doublewood), and even more delighted that I don't drink whiskey. Seemed churlish to deny him this thank you present, don't you think? Other raffle items included a huge basket of Walker shortbread, box seats to a local baseball game, brunches and dinners, and the grand prize was a trip for two to the British Isles. Interesting to note that the major prizes were won by a young man too young to drink or travel on his own. But I was assured he's a nice kid, so everyone was happy.

There was a silent auction as well, of items donated toward the funding of the scholarship program. The items included everything from certificates to restaurants, a hand-knitted blanket in Scottish themes, expensive books and clothing, kilt pins, travel clocks, etc. A silent auction is one where people write down their bids; there isn't a seated group in front of an auctioneer who eggs the audience on to bid higher and higher. This is a bit more civilized, in that the bidding and out-bidding happens on paper over the course of the evening. This guarantees a minimum of unseemly behavior, I think.

The winners of the two scholarships to study for a year in an approved Scottish University were presented to the society, and those who came to the US to study from Scotland were likewise presented. One scholar's family came to the event, and the entourage including his aunt, who was the Lord Provost of Aberdeen. She seemed to have a very good time. (Her nephew looks very cute in a formal kilt, let me tell you!)

And though the sight of men in kilts arriving to do battle to the sound of braying bagpipes is rumored to have scared most enemies (except the Germans in WWI ... I heard a story from a Canadian who was there, that they thought women had come, and they learned about the Scots the hard way), at the Tartan Ball, one can only describe it as breathtaking, for any number of reasons!

Another friend, who had arrived in a tuxedo, lamented at how plain he looked in comparison to the kilted men. He resolved to have one made for him, for he also noticed that the women fell over each other stampeding to the men in skirts! The men, to their credit, generally didn't squeal or protest when they were taken advantage of, either. (So what *do* Scotsmen wear beneath the kilt? The answer: it depends on the Scot ... go and do your own research!)

As the members are Scots, they believe in having a good time, and the people got friendlier as the evening wore on, and food and drink had been consumed. Even at the start of the evening, they were pretty rambunctuous, too. When the national anthem of the UK was played, those from there sang "God Save the Queen," but when "The Star Spangled Banner"'s beginning chords were struck, everyone sang loudly, whether they could or not. It's nice the people do as they should, when they should. And it's also nice to know that "formal" doesn't mean "dull"!

My only problem now is to find another formal gown to wear for next year; I intend to be invited again!


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