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Report: Culture

Haggis in Paris as Scotland comes to Montmartre

The Edinburgh Scotpipe Band in Montmartre
The Edinburgh Scotpipe Band in Montmartre Patrick Bernard

Whisky-a-flowing, pipes-a-piping, drums-a-drumming ... since 2001 a weekend full of Scottish flavour vies for public attention with the traditional French chandeleur, crêpe season, in the historic Paris district of Montmartre.

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Last weekend the mayor of Paris's 18th arrondissement  was presented with a Scottish meaty delicacy on a silver tray - a full-size haggis - as colourfully made-up and Melissa, Lucy and David, costumed Moulin Rouge dancers hailing from Scotland, looked on during the kick-off of the Ecosse à Montmartre (Scotland in Montmartre) biennial event.

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Michel Cadin, a local hotellier, is the man behind this revelry, which includes whisky-tasting in the Rue des Abbesses.

It all began when a Scottish friend of his with Rugby Union contacts suggested they should find a way to mark the Six Nations Tournament match between France and Scotland in Paris.

For those who don’t yet know, France beat Scotland 15-8 in this year's match on 7 February.

"It has grown out of nothing," Cadin says, "and now, it’s so well established our launch is taking place at the town hall!"

It was a moment of cross-Channel bonhomie at the high-ceilinged council hall. The acoustics proved remarkably good in rendering the deep sounds of well-practiced bagpipes and drums playing The Bluebells of Scotland, The Men of Harlech or Amazing Grace.

The beat-perfect Edinburgh Scotpipe Band in full attire of thick wool kilts, pleated cloaks, sporrans, ceremonial daggers, spats and high black hats with red feathers in them, accompanied the downing of fine Scottish whisky, salmon and haggis.

A piper has to be almost as fit as a rugby player; he carries kit plus bagpipes weighing more than 20 kilos, Scott Duncan, one of the leaders of band from Edinburgh told RFI before the assembled company tucked into the Scotnosh.

Bagpipes are a European affair,  popular instruments beyond the borders of Scotland.

The Dalhousie Pipe Band from Switzerland played in the Montmartre parade on the chilly Parisian February weekend.

Marc, one of the leaders of the band which is based in Basle/Basel, proudly explained that the Scottish Earl of Dalhousie himself gave them permission to use the name.

"We have a very famous carnival and the second largest open-air tattoo in the world," he said. "A lot of people are interested in playing bagpipes in our region, in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. My wife plays the bagpipes, my daughter plays the drum, I’m a lead drummer. It’s always an adventure to come to play in other places like Paris or Oslo."

European unity crops up in the most unlikely places.

"We like to play wherever there’s an audience who are able to enjoy us," says Duncan. "We’ve even performed in India!"

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