Men will chase
anything in a skirt.
On the weekend following the launch of the 'Yes Scotland' campaign in Edinburgh I was invited to a wedding in the small city of Bacau, in the beautiful land of Moldavia.
To avoid confusion it should be understood that the slightly better known Republic of Moldova is an independent country but used to form part of the old Moldavia, which has always been part of what Romanians regard as Romania. The Republic of Moldova was annexed by the Soviet Union shortly before the second world war and its recovery was one of the prime motivations for Romania, led by the fascist Marshall Antonescu, joining Germany in its invasion of the Soviet Union in late June 1941.
While visiting north-eastern Moldavia it is intriguing to imagine the countryside occupied by Nazi divisions preparing for Operation Barbarossa; including SS Einsatzgruppen D whose murderous work began in Romania even before they crossed the River Prut into Soviet territory to implement the 'final solution' in the east.
Present-day Moldavia stretches from the river Danube, close to where it runs into the Black Sea, to the mountains that border Ukraine in the north. It seems to be the place where the endless steppe actually begins, edged by rolling hills where countless vineyards produce prize-winning wines that too few people in Western Europe and the United States have tasted.
My wedding invitation included a request from the bride that I wear a kilt. I had to think about this for a while as I have worn one only four times in my life and have never particularly enjoyed the experience, not least because modern Highland dress is an invention foisted on us by the same class of people who proscribed the wearing of tartan in the first place. However I wanted to help make my friends' wedding an occasion to remember and so I agreed, borrowing an outfit with a 'Hunting Stewart' kilt from a very good English friend of mine in Bucharest. Strangely his girth is half mine but his kilt is almost too big for me, a mysterious garment indeed.
When I discovered the date of the 'Yes Scotland' launch and its proximity to the wedding, I felt much better about my decision. My invitation to the cinema in Edinburgh did not arrive in the post and it seems that I will not be permitted a vote in the referendum, despite waiting to say Yes since I was 12-years-old (perhaps I'll write more about this another time). However, it seemed fitting that I would be able to share my culture with the good people of Bacau at the time of our final push to independence being launched.
I was harshly stared at wherever I went by men, women, children and dogs, members of a population whose culture has not evolved a system of manners in which the axiom 'it's rude to stare' is often heard.
Except for weddings and Hampden Park or Central Station on certain match days, it is unusual to see a kilt wandering around Glasgow so perhaps you can imagine the reaction in a small city in Moldavia where Highland dress may never have been witnessed before.
Victor Ponta, who recently became prime minister of Romania, was also in Bacau that weekend, supporting his party's candidates in local elections and attending a motor rally, a sport about which he is passionate. He was staying at the same hotel as I was and I saw him a few times. But I know whose appearance was more memorable on the day, as I walked through hotel reception and out into the street; and it wasn't the shiny new prime minister. I was harshly stared at wherever I went by men, women, children and dogs, members of a population whose culture has not evolved a system of manners in which the axiom 'it's rude to stare' is often heard.
As I walked along the street to one of the fabulous Orthodox churches that decorate the city, an old man, leaning on his garden gate, shouted to me at the top of his voice, in Romanian. I went over to see him and we hugged and waved our arms around for a few minutes, easily overcoming our significant language barrier. He called his wife to come out to meet the 'Scotsian' and she hugged me as well. I could still be there, in their sitting room, drinking polinka and enjoying one of those regular and wonderful moments of genuine warmth and solidarity that Scottish travellers often encounter.
To some extent I wasn't surprised by the reaction I received. There was no mocking or nastiness, just genuine curiosity and the initial shock seen on the faces of a number of small children in a park. However one thing did surprise me and that was how close the experience took me to the world of women because every man I met and shook hands with looked briefly into my eyes and then immediately down at my legs. Maybe it's true after all: men will chase anything in a skirt. Even me.
Ronnie Smith was born in Largs and now lives in Romania, working as a professional training business consultant and communication coach. He is also a teacher of political science, a political and social commentator and a writer of fiction