Monday, August 31, 2009

The VIRTUAL Beret Project

A name very close to The Beret Project is the Virtual Beret Project.

It has taken me a while to figure out what it is about; if you click on the link 'Berets!' below and then on 'Original Berets', you'll get to some interesting descriptions - to say the least.

Like Miss Fifi la Garabouge: Berets are fabulous! Mine is a shiny silver hubcap. When its not on my head, I use it for digging and carring objects. It's very functional and looks great on my head too!

The Virtual Beret Project is an Internet Artwork which began in 1994.
It is a project in which people are asked to invent an artist,
describe the artwork of the artist, and describe the artist's beret.
if you want to drop a line,
contribute a "virtual artist" to this project,
or just say hi,
send an email to

Project HistoryBerets!Current Doings

PhD Pocket Disc™ - Flying Crocheted Frisbee-Style Beret Disc

A good number of times I have come across (stories and pictures of) a beret acting as a Frisbee, but it can also go the other way around.

I quote Blueberry Forest Toys: "Flying Disc as Beret: The PhD discs also double as the coolest little berets: even the youngest children quickly figure out their double use as the classic French hat, and they often will be seen wearing the PhDs when not throwing thePhDs . . . "

These PhD Pocket Discs are Fair Trade and handmade in Guatemala; "invented" (?) by a U.S. family-owned business in North Carolina.

When playing Frisbee with your beret, you may like to train your bloodhound before letting it act as a retriever though.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Beret with Norwegian badge belonging to James G Jeffs

This black felt beret belonged to the artist James G Jeffs. It has a pin badge of the Norwegian flag attached.

The badge signifies the special association which exists between the people of Norway and the people of Dumfries, forged by the

events of the Second World War, when Dumfries found itself the training centre of the Norwegian army in exile. Jeffs often received Norwegian visitors to his Dumfries studio.

When Germany invaded Norway in 1940 the

Norwegian merchant fleet was still at sea. Despite orders to proceed to neutral

or German harbours, every single ship sailed to Allied ports. 3,000 men arrived in Britain, and while half went back to sea in British or Norwegian ships, the remainder was sent to a transit camp set up in Troqueer Mill,Dumfries.

leather, textile, wool
diameter 232mm
Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Pope and Berets

The garment below is advertised as a Black Corporal Beret worn by member of the Vatican Swiss Guard who served under Pope John Paul II. Garments worn by Swiss Guards rarely appear on the market and are obviously priced accordingly, at $350.
For sale at Pope JP II.COM, "Your Trusted Source For One-of-a-kind Christian Memorabilia".

The berets I sell through South Pacific Berets are not only of far superior quality, they are true traditionally made berets too (including the txotena!), for a much better price.

Here are the Swiss Guards pictured in their uniform.

The present Pope himself is known for wearing berets too.

And for those interested in liturgical headgear, author Dieter Philippi will soon release a majestic photo book picturing all sorts of religious headdresses from around the world.

The Māori Battalion

I have said it before: New Zealand has no rich beret-history.
Although very few civilian (or Basque) berets are worn here, the military makes up for this.
Part of that military was the 28th Māori Battalion, part of the NZ Expeditionary Force during WWII.
The Māori Battalion was formed following pressure on the Labour Government by the Māori MP's and organisations throughout New Zealand, wanting a full Māori unit to be raised for service overseas, following in the footsteps of the Pioneer Battalion of WWI. The companies were organised along tribal lines.

The 28th Battalion saw action in Greece for the first time on 15 April, 1941, followed by actions in Libya, Syria and, after joining the 8th Army Campaign in North Africa, the battle of El Alamein. (German) Field Marshal Rommel described the Māori Battalion as the greatest fighting force he had ever seen.

After the North African Campaign, the battalion went to Italy, where at the battle of Monte Casino they took part in some of the fiercest fighting of the war, resulting in the death of 300 men. Cdr. General Freiberg commented: "No infantry had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties, as the Maori Battalion."

Much more on the 28th Māori Battalion can be found at the battalions web site, here.

This picture is of Three Māori Battalion soldiers peering over the tops of barrels of preserved muttonbird sent from New Zealand for Christmas dinner, near the Senio River, Italy (December 1944).
Top picture is of Joseph (Hohepa) Takuta from Rotoiti, taken on the battalion's return from Europe in January 1946.

The berets are the heavy wool material variety, similar to what was in use in the British army of the time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hugo Pratt & Corto Maltese

If I ever had a hero role-model, it must be Corto Maltese, the character created by Italian comic book writer Hugo Pratt.

Corto Maltese is a sea captain, a classical romantic hero but not a sentimental Byronic wretch. Corto's world is a distinct world of his own: "I don't like hawking 'round other people's memories... That wasn't part of the deal... when I was born." (Corto Maltese inThe Celts)

In Pratt's comics fictional characters intermingle with real historical persons, among them the indestructible Grigoriy Rasputin, a notorious lecher and drunkard, who gained the confidence of the emperor Nicholas II, and who is seen in several albums. The French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) appeared in Les Ethiopiques. In 1973 Pratt visited Harar where Rimbaud had lived and where his father was buried. Rasputin is Corto's dark Doppelganger and proclaims in Corto Maltese in Siberia: "It's hopeless to live in a world without adventure, without fantasy, without joy!"

Corto's father is an English sailor from Cornwall, his mother a gypsy from Gibraltar. As a rebel, he mostly sides with the oppressed, with Indians, Irish revolutionaries against the British, Russians fighting against the Czarist system. Pratt often combines fact with fiction, and sets the actions of his characters against some true historical crisis. In The Celt's, published first in Pif in 1971-1972, Corto meets Merlin the Wizard and characters from Shakespeare's play Midsummer Night's Dream, and sinks with a tugboat, named 'Excalibur', a German submarine. Corto himself disappears sometime during the Spanish Civil War.

Going through all my Hugo Pratt comics, I was surprised not to find many drawings of berets, which seems to me such a Pratt-like attribute. Most berets found are military ones, but also a caubeen worn by Banshee O'Danann and a picture of Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Hugo Pratt died in 1995 and I still miss him for what he left: comics that could match any literary novel and provoked an interest in me varying from kabbala and tarot to Central Asian Turkic separatism and African mysticism via many other sidetracks - he should have written a lot more and longer...

Interestingly, Pratt's works never took off in the Anglo-Saxon world, but were and still are big in France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia and many other European and South American countries. Hard to find books in English through the regular bookstores, but you can always try Abebooks.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Olentzero is the Basque version of Father Christmas, coming to town late at night on (depending on the village and local tradition) the 24th, of 27th or 31st of December to drop off presents for children. There are many variations to the Olentzero traditions and stories connected to him, sometimes varying from village to village, the first written one dating back to the 16th century.

One common version has Olentzero being one of thejentillak, a mythological race of Basque giants living in the Pyrenees. Legend has it that they observed a glowing cloud in the sky one day. None of them could look at this bright cloud except for a very old, nearly blind man. When asked to examine it, he confirmed their fears and told them that it was a sign that Jesus will be born soon. According to some stories, the old man asked the giants to throw him off a cliff to avoid having to live through Christianisation. Having obliged him, the giants tripped on the way down and died themselves except Olentzero.

Other versions have the jentillak simple leaving, with only Olentzero remaining behind to embrace Christianity.

Parts of this type of Olentzero legend are reminiscent of a prehistoric cult rituals surrounding the winter solstice, such as the involvement of ritual "last meals" and sacrifices of rebirth.

Other versions of the Olentzeroren kondaira or "history of Olentzero" tell that as a new born he was abandoned in the woods and was found by a fairy who gave him the name Olentzero, bestowed gifts of strength and kindness on him and handed him to an older childless couple living alone in the woods. He turned into a strong man and charcoal burner who was also good with his hands, carving wooden toys that he would carry in a big charcoal bag to give to the children of the village. It is said that he died one day saving children from a burning house and that when he died, the fairy who had found him granted him eternal life to continue to bring joy to children and people.

In the modern version, Olentzero is depicted as a lovable character, widely attributed to being overweight, having a huge appetite and thirst. He is depicted as a Basque peasant wearing a Basque beret, a farmer's attire with traditional abarketa shoes and smoking a pipe. Whether he has a beard or not is not yet an established tradition. Sometimes his face is stained with charcoal, as a sign of his trade as a charcoal-burner. On Christmas Eve, groups of people or children with berets carry effigies of Olentzero around on a chair through the streets, singing Olentzero carols and collecting food or sweets.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Etxeko, Bob's Beer

It's not only wine bottles that carry pretty labels with berets. Have a look at the bottles of Bob's Beer, for example.

Ex-Londoner Robin Worboys created a brasserie in the (French) Basque Country and, inspired by his ancestor who founded the Stourton Brewery in Cambridge, started a new life as a brewer.

Traditional artisan beers, brewed from the finest natural ingredients; no

additives, un-filtered and not pasteurized.

What's more, the bottles are transported in this beautiful Citroën HY (not the first one to appear on this web site...)

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Many cartoon characters can be seen with berets. In the Flemish Suske & Wiske series many appear, like in Tin Tin (professor Calculus / Tournesol) and many others. Not so much in American cartoons, Charles. M. Schulz' Snoopy being the proverbial exception - not counting Donald Duck of course, who wears a sailor's hat.
Snoopy is often pictured as the typical Frenchman, or French-dog for that matter, alternatively as a beret wearing film director.

Originally meant to be named Sniffy,
the little dog was called Snoopy at his first
appearance on 4 October 1950.

More on Snoopy's history here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

At least they improved the quality of their president

Driving into Central Wellington this morning, my attention was caught by a billboard of Gravity Coffee, stating: at least they improved the quality of their president, with a large cup of Gravity Coffee next to it. Sublime advertising and evoking memories of driving along East Coast interstates and unable to find anything better than a McDonald's serving some weak, watery substance under the name of coffee.
The Pacific Northwest was always the exception, coincidently a much higher beret density too. I look forward to the day I visit fellow beret enthusiast Ron Greer at his Studio Boina Cafe in Seattle.
I have been told that overall the coffee situation across the Pacific has changed dramatically since my last stay in the US, along with their new -beret wearing-president, that gives hope.


Despite an old animosity (inherited from the British and well fed by nuclear testing in the South Pacific and French Government terrorism against the Rainbow Warrior), New Zealanders and Frenchmen have a few things in common.

Like rugby. A dangerous subject for me to write about, as I am one of the very few Kiwi's who hasn't got a clue on what rugby is about (which some 'round here find unforgivable).

I do appreciate the come back of the beret among the younger French - thanks to rugby. Take these World Cup logo embroidered berets or this one with the badge of Rochelais Atlantigue.
Or oversized txapela's like this one (what's French about a txapela anyway?), seen at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, before the match between Wales and France:

Better even, this Frenchman playing rugby with a beret on his head!

I never knew there was something like a beret tradition in Wales, but (thanks to rugby?), one can find nicely embroidered berets among Welshmen these days.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dictators and Pacifists

I can't think think of any other garment that is so universally adopted by both the pacifists and dictators of our world than the beret.
No, I don't believe Stalin and Hitler ever wore a beret, but Francisco Franco

Saddam Hussein

and Hugo Chavez
were/are very professional in posing with a beret on their heads. Ché Guevara, though not a dictator in the strict sense of the word, doesn't need any more mentioning - he is the iconic beret wearer. The far left and the far right in politics obviously agree on one thing, at least.

Because, on the other side we see people like Heinrich Böll, Pablo Picasso and

Abbé Pierre

(here in the good company of the Dalai Lama).

It's easier to make an observation than an analysis; how do we explain the beret being a favourite of such far apart groups? I personally believe it must have something to do with the txortena, or it's absence. Where it seems to function as an aerial with the higher being for the good people on this earth, I notice the complete absence of a txortena on dictator's headgear and military berets.