Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Beret: A Personal History

My earliest memories of berets are of my grandfather, Abraham Kolthoff, wearing a small diameter black beret (or alpino as they are called in Dutch). As a boy, I often went for walks with my 'Opa' and father (who donned a maroon beret). In the forests around Naarden in the Netherlands, where I grew up, I became a soldier with one of their berets on my head (my father's very close to a paratroopers', after all). For me at that time, berets only represented military headgear. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any photographic evidence left of their berets. Over 45 years later, my dad, Baruch "Dick" Kolthoff, dons a beret again; a brown coloured Elosegui Fina. Here he is, in his garden in Amersfoort (Nl):

And the other grandfather of my children, Rhys Thomas, now sports
a navy blue Espinosa, when working his olive orchard on Waiheke Island.

In the meantime, I started to develop an interest in berets myself; my first one is an old Royal Dutch Marine Corps one, without the crowned-anchor-badge. This picture was taken just outside the houseboat where I lived (I believe in 1986), near the village of Spaarndam, in the Netherlands.

My first Béret Basque
was French made, a Bakarra, I believe.
Somewhere along the way I lost it. This picture was taken in 1992, at the moment of leaving for the Gers in France to set up an organic farm with my friend Martijn (driving there in his beautiful Citroën HY van, just visible in the background) and saying farewell to ex-girlfriend Miriam.

Steadily, my collection grew over the years. One beret very dear to me is this one:

A Chechen Boivik (or Fighter one). It got this beret as a present from my friend, driver and bodyguard Isa, while I was working for a medical organization in Chechnya, in 1997, between the 1st and 2nd war. Isa died, of cancer, but really of lack of
treatment and money... May he be happy in Paradise, with 20 virgins at his side. And please, don't forget the awful plight of the Chechen people.

These days, I can choose from some 40 berets to wear, but generally I wear an Espinosa 28 or one of the grand Elóseguis.
And I am not the only one in the family... Here my beloved partner Megan wears a Canadian Parkhurst in Ivory White while my youngest daughter Emira Zaza sports an unknown Chinese brand in pink - always pink.

And, whatever my feelings towards the idolization of Ché Guevara, my oldest daughter Marshida happily wears the replica that my brother brought from Cuba.


  1. I love this entry! Thanks for the pictures and narratives of your family members wearing boinas. The only ones in my family who I have influenced are my son, Josh, and my son-in-law, David who, by the way, is heading over to Albania with our daughter, Sara and our two grandaughters. Josh will be in Bolivia until November until he arrives in Argentina to be with us. BTW, log onto his website for some nice pictures. www.joshgreenman.com

  2. Share photos of Chechen beret and badge, please.
    Thank you.

    1. Shall do shortly, in a post on The Beret Project. Cheers