Sunday, 3 March 2013

Balaclava background.

I knew Balaclava -- a Russian and Eastern European enclave in St Kilda East -- would make a proper home from the moment Aradhna and I first took in its Jewish delis and bakeries along Carlisle Street back in December 2007. We'd traveled down from Sydney to take a crash course in Melbourne's diverse neighborhoods and I was instantly smitten. Authentic bagels from Glicks, immense breakfasts at Gattica, trams running in every direction, 15 minute train ride to Flinders Street Station in the CBD: this funky, inner-south suburb ticked all the boxes, to use an Aussie expression. We found a second floor apartment just off Balaclava Rd in St Kilda East (yeah, that makes no sense, but Aussie street names are an inconsistent, repetitive mess) and began our Melbourne encampment. We moved to a northern suburb called Ivanhoe early in 2009 for the sake of getting to know the city better but returned to Balaclava proper in March 2010.

One of the pleasures of living here is the opportunity to say 'balaclava' when asked where we live. It's a great word, slightly menacing, singular, exotic. Along with nearby Inkerman Street and Alma Road, Balaclava Road was named after a great battle of the Crimean War of 1854-56. So it was great interest I read this brief lexical investigation on
Balaclavas and cardigans have more in common than keeping you warm—they both owe their names to the Crimean War. During the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, British troops were under-prepared for the cold Ukrainian winter, and unlike their French counterparts, who were allowed to wear as many layers as required to stay warm, the British were expected to adhere to their uniforms. The poor conditions caused a scandal in Britain and motivated civilians to donate money and knit warm clothing for the troops using government-issued patterns and regulation yarn, including a wool cap to be worn under their helmets. The British referred to these caps as Balaclava helmets, and later just called them balaclavas. Troops were also issued button-down woolen jackets, which were named after the Lord of Cardigan, who led their ill-fated charge known as the Light Brigade against the Russians.

Popular References:

Balaclava, Movie (1928)

“Balaclava,” The Arctic Monkeys, CD (2007)

Relevant Quotations:

“Report says, these ill-clothed warriors did not cover themselves with glory in the Crimean war, and that on one occasion, during the attack on Balaclava, having more discretion than valour, they did not wait for the Russians, but retired hastily to the town again, where the women and camp followers, with a sad want of appreciation, gave them such a smart trouncing that the unfortunate Tunisians almost regretted not having kept the field.”

—Hunt’s Yachting Magazine, Vol 19 (1870)

“Mlle Riego gave a crochet receipt for it in her 1854 booklet, but did not call it ‘balaclava’ and gave no directions for knitting it.”

—Richard Rutt, A History of Hand Knitting (1987)

“In the first winter of the Crimean War, British women read reports that their men were dying by the hundreds of exposure to the cold. They began knitting close-fitting covers that left only the eyes expose, then sent the packages to ‘Balaclava.’”

—Andrew Evans and Marc Di Duca, Ukraine (2010)

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