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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Parties Scottish Style




Among the hundreds gathered last weekend at the opening events of the Third Festival of Scottish Culture in Moscow, perhaps no one stood out as much as Larisa Ivanova. Neither the spectators nor the presenters seemed to know the woman, who stood just below five feet in height and looked about 70 years old. She didn't talk much, but her eyes sparkled as she participated in ? and in many ways, dominated ? every event.


On Saturday, she danced in front of the stage to the folksy tunes of the Scottish band Beggars' Row, and, at one point, the fiddler jumped down to play especially for her. At the Highland Games on Sunday, she sprinted from one event to the next, flirting with and charming Scotsmen and Russians much younger than she, and even jumped into the line of a tug-of-war match ? winning, too. During the games' closing ceremonies, Vitaly Mironov ? president of the Moscow Caledonian Club, which organized the festival along with the British Council ? called her up to the stage to receive a box of shortbread.


Ivanova not only personified the good cheer of last weekend's first half of the festival, she is a testament to the special bond that has always existed between Scots and Russians, including a shared love of Robert Burns, and many other historical and cultural alliances. And this bond is being displayed in force at this year's festival.


At Saturday's opening ceremonies in the Sokolniki Park, both bagpipers and the band Beggars' Row were resplendent in kilts, blending the right amount of Scottish folk music and boogie to keep the packed amphitheater dancing in spite of the extreme heat. Overcast and cooler (and Scottish?) weather ushered in Sunday's Highland Games at the Znamensky Track and Field Stadium.


Although the crowds ranged in age, the heaviest showing came from the early-twenties set. But other than the official presence of Beggars' Row and some visiting Scottish dignitaries, the majority of participants and spectators were actually Russians disguised in homemade kilts and other traditional garb. Or not so traditional. The young men and women with painted faces and swords could have been on the set of Braveheart.


At the Highland Games, the spectators remained in the bleachers while the Scottish flag was raised to the singing of "Flower of Scotland," but they instantly took to the field in the ensuing mock battle. Members of three Moscow-based historical reconstruction clubs ? Silverwolf, Legacy of the Fathers and Moscovia ? re-enacted a skirmish that drove home the Braveheart theme. Then the games began.


The events ranged from tug-of-war to shot put, but all were in some way tests of physical strength. Crowds were especially drawn to a contest called "the tossing of the kabre," in which great big men threw great big logs about twice their size. Members of the historical clubs lectured on old Scottish folk traditions and there was even some dancing.


"It was just great to see something that generated such a spontaneous, young student-oriented crowd," recalled Edinburgh-born John Bonar a few days later. "I think that the Caledonian Club did a great job."


But the best part of the action happened on the sidelines. Scots and Russians gestured animatedly, communicating even without a common language. Curious passers-by filtered in to join the conviviality and imbibing. Complete strangers passed around Scotch and beer, while members of Beggars' Row taught young Russians how to adjust their homemade kilts. In fact, the laid-back goodwill was so predominant during the games that the atmosphere felt closer to a Grateful Dead show than to a Moscow sporting event.


In one of many surreal moments, a tipsy Russian lad took to an empty stage during the tossing of the kabre, filling the sound system with his shaky but unique version of "Yesterday," a song by Scotland resident Paul McCartney, after all. But nobody seemed to pay much attention, least of all the hulking giants across the field, who continued to throw their logs to the heartfelt, good-natured whaling of the musical interloper.


Most remarkable, however, was the fervor with which many of the younger spectators wanted to learn about Scotland. Scottish attendees were besieged with questions about their homeland, which they happily answered.


Why all of the interest among young Russians? "Maybe it's the Celtic culture," Katya Matosova, 23, said. "The signs, the culture. It's something that people here don't know much about. It's very romantic. They use their imagination. And the music is really not of this world."


The festival continues this weekend with gala concerts of Scottish folk music at the Central House of Artists, located near metro stations Park Kultury and Oktyabrskaya at 10 Krymsky Val. For more information, call 964-8927.