07 June 2008

Grecian Calf Tassles, Gravity and Guardsmen

Since I'm already thinking about Greece (see previous post), I thought I'd post this picture of Nicolas Sarkozy taken yesterday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square in Athens. I love the uniforms the guardsmen - or Evzones - wear. It's hard not to stare at the little red slides (tsarouhi) with enormous pompoms, and the calf tassles (kaltsodetes). The white skirt is called a fustanella and is apparently the cultural equivalent of a kilt. According to the very scholarly source Wikipedia, the fustanella has "400 pleats, commemorating the 400 years of Ottoman occupation." Aside from the pleats, the uniform has many details that hail Greece's amazing and ancient history.
Tombs to unknown soldiers are such somber symbols of nationalism, history and gratitude. Dozens of countries have them to commemorate their lost. It seems to me that the guardsmen chosen to watch the monuments, aside from adding to the pomp and circumstance, would also be cloaked in uniforms that complement the gravity and symbolism of the tombs.

The intricate and rich uniforms of the Greek Evzones make me a little disgruntled about my own country's uniforms. I realize that the history of the United States is just a blip compared to the history of Greece - we don't have such a vast culture to draw from - but there's nothing remotely historical represented in the uniforms or ritual of the guards at Arlington. Certainly there is an aura of stateliness, but not a real sense of place (especially when the actual monument is a rather bleak block of a sarcophagus).

Maybe I've fixated on something that shouldn't be fixated upon - I wouldn't put it past me - but does anyone agree with me? Does anyone care to educate me on the uniforms or commemorative rituals of other countries?

Photo from Reuters


pretty face said...

Wow, they look amazing... Sarkozy looks so dull in contrast.

Well here in London we've got the 'Beefeaters' to guard the Tower of London, dressed in bright red with tall hats.

I met one once on a trip when I was younger and he wasn't particularly nice, although he was very impressed that I knew what 'Regina' meant.

ailsa said...

Ah, you've studied your Latin!

I need to read up on the history of the Beefeaters' uniforms. I've always thought they looked a bit medieval up top and a bit Renaissance down below. But I have no clue...

pretty face said...

Mmmm yep probably what he thought - a 10 year old studying Latin!
It was actually just my grandmother's name.
And I have to admit I have no idea about any of the Beefeater history...

la femme said...

I was just talking about uniforms with my mom yesterday!(the drabness of Canadian ones next to those of the Vatican Swiss Guard). I've always liked the skirt and pom poms on Greek uniforms. Dancers wear them too.

Agree re: American uniforms, although the marines look smart.

ailsa said...

I was thoroughly impressed by the Swiss Guard at the Vatican. I felt like I should curtsy to them, or at least deflate their sleeves with a swift thwack.

Mille said...

i love the giant pompoms and the colourful uniforms!

in Denmark we have the royal lifeguards, livgarden, who guards the royal palaces. they wear really big hats made out of bear fur. when the weather is really hot outside, the hats can reach temperatures up to 70 degres celcius. combined with the strict rules (no moving while on guard!) there have been issues with dehydration, so sometimes they get to wear a smaller hat. but only when it's really hot!

there are only about 900 royal lifeguards in the danish army. one of my friends just enrolled to become one, very crazy. they can be seen outside the royal palace, amalienborg when the queen is there.

here's a picture :)