CLOSE
iStock
iStock

10 Unexpected Emblems From Flags of the World

iStock
iStock

Every flag the world over has some kind of reasoning or rationale behind it, from the thirteen colonies and 50 states represented on the Stars and Stripes, to the original Union Jack’s combination of the crosses of St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick, the patron saints of England, Scotland, and Ireland. (Wales, still classed as part of England at the time the Union Jack was created in 1606, remains omitted from the design.)

But in some cases, national and regional flags incorporate much more besides block colors and straightforward geometric designs. From hats on sticks to jewel-encrusted dragons, here are the stories behind 10 of the world’s more unusual flag designs.

1. TWO RED DAIRY COWS (WITH BLUE HORNS) // ANDORRA

The tiny landlocked principality of Andorra sits high in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. At just 180 square miles, it’s one of the smallest independent nations in the world; six Andorras would fit inside Rhode Island with room to spare. Its flag is a straightforward tricolor of blue, yellow, and red—but in the center of the yellow field is the Andorran coat of arms, the bottom-right quarter of which contains an image of two bright red dairy cows, typically depicted with navy blue horns or hooves.

The four quarters of the Andorran arms represent the four coats of arms of two ancient Andorran princes, the Bishop of Urgell and the Count of Foix, and two of the country’s former feudal lords, the King of Aragon and the French Viscount of Béarn. It’s the Viscount of Béarn’s coat of arms that contains the two cows, which are popularly said to represent the region’s strong agricultural heritage—although an alternative theory is that they’re a punning joke on the name of the Vaccaei (an ancient Celtic people from whom the Béarns could supposedly trace their ancestry), based on the Latin name for a cow, vacca.

2. A TWO-HEADED EAGLE // ALBANIA

The two-headed eagle is not as bizarre or as uncommon an emblem as it might sound, and has been used since antiquity as a symbol of fortitude, nationalism and empire. Although it appears on a number of local and national coats of arms (as well as the national flag of Serbia), by far the most conspicuous example today can be found on the flag of Albania. The two heads of the Albanian eagle are said to represent the northern and southern extremes of the country—and, according to local folklore, the Albanian name for Albania, Shqipëria, literally means “land of the eagles.”

3. A MACHETE // ANGOLA

The flag of Angola was adopted in 1975, and was based on that of MPLA or Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola—the guerrilla group and eventual ruling political party that drove the country towards independence. The flag’s red and black background is said to represent the blood shed during the country’s colonization and the African continent itself, while in its center sits a star (representing solidarity), a cog wheel (representing industry), and a machete (representing both agriculture and the country’s bloody war for independence). The arrangement of the central design is reputedly based on the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union, who supported the MPLA in the 1970s, while the general layout of the flag has been connected to the flag of the Viet Cong, who served as an inspiration in the fight for independence.

4. A SHIPWRECK // BERMUDA

A shipwreck might not seem like the most encouraging image to display on your flag, but the island of Bermuda makes an exception. Its flag features both the UK’s Union Jack and an English red lion holding a shield depicting a galleon running aground on a cliff face.

The ship in question isn’t just any old ship but the Sea Venture, the flagship of the Virginia Company that operated between England and colonial North America in the early 17th century. During one fateful Atlantic crossing in 1609, a hurricane struck, forcing Admiral Sir George Somers to intentionally steer the ship toward the reefs of Bermuda—the only land he and his crew had seen for weeks—in a desperate attempt to see out the bad weather. Miraculously, everyone on board survived the hurricane, the island of Bermuda was settled, and William Shakespeare got an idea for a play

5. A DRAGON HOLDING FOUR GEMSTONES // BHUTAN

The saffron and orange background of the flag of Bhutan, a small landlocked kingdom in the eastern Himalayas, represents the King as well as the country’s predominant Buddhist faith. In the center of the flag is a pure white dragon holding four gemstones. The dragon, known as Druk or the “thunder dragon,” is a figure from Bhutanese mythology. The jewel or norbu that it holds in each claw represents wealth.

6. A RUNNING PINE MARTEN // CROATIA

The red, white and blue stripes of the flag of Croatia and the checkerboard shield in its center represent the traditional colors and coat of arms of the country and its constituent kingdoms. Above the shield, however, are the five regional coats of arms of Croatia, Dubrovnik, Dalmatia, Istria, and Slavonia—and in the center of the Slavonian coat of arms is a running pine marten, a carnivorous mammal in the weasel family. Pine marten skins were once a major source of revenue in Croatia (so much so that the name of the Croatian currency, the kuna, literally means “marten”), and so the Slavonian emblem not only alludes to the country’s former industry, but is likely intended to be a symbol of wealth and prosperity.

7. FIVE VOLCANOES (AND A HAT ON A STICK) // EL SALVADOR

In the middle stripe of the flag of El Salvador is the national coat of arms, the centerpiece of which is an image of five volcanoes, each representing one of the five founder nations of the former Federal Republic of Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Rising high above the third of the five volcanoes, however, is a crimson hat balanced on the end of a long staff.

The hat in question is a Phrygian cap—a soft, conical cap originating in the eastern Mediterranean. In revolutionary America and France, the Phrygian cap erroneously came to be considered a symbol of liberty and emancipation due to confusion with the pileus, a similar linen or felt hat symbolically bestowed upon freed slaves in Ancient Rome. But despite the error, the association remains intact: Phrygian caps can be seen on the flags of Bolivia, Haiti, and Nicaragua, as well as the state flags of West Virginia, New Jersey, and New York—and in the official seal of the U.S. Senate.

8. A KALASHNIKOV AND A HOE // MOZAMBIQUE

Only a few countries in the world have firearms on their flags. Bolivia and Haiti have largely obscured bayoneted muskets and long guns, respectively, while Guatemala's flag features a central emblem containing two crossed rifles—a symbol of the country’s strong defenses—and Mozambique's less subtly depicts an AK-47 assault rifle with a bayonet attached.

Just like Angola's, the flag of Mozambique was adopted relatively recently (in 1983) and is based on that of the liberating movement (in this case, the Mozambican Liberation Front) that paved the way for the country’s independence. The rifle is said to represent both defense and vigilance—while the hoe and the open book that accompany it represent agriculture and education.

9. FIVE CARPETS // TURKMENISTAN

Slightly inset from the left-hand side of the flag of Turkmenistan is a red stripe depicting five guls—traditional oval or medallion-like designs used in carpets and rugs in central Asia—each one unique to one of the country’s five founding peoples or tribes. Because of the elaborate complexity of these designs, the Turkmenistan flag is claimed to be the most complex national flag in the world.

10. A CAMEL // PLZEŇ, CZECHIA

Local flora and fauna often feature on flags. A bird of paradise appears on the flag of Papua New Guinea. A condor appears on the flag of Ecuador. An alpaca appears on the flag of Bolivia. But a camel on the flag of the Czechia region of Plzeň? According to local folklore, in the early 15th century a camel was captured from an army of Hussites who besieged the city of Plzeň for more than nine months, without success. As a result, the camel quickly became a symbol of the city’s robust defenses and was added to the region’s coat of arms in 1433.

All images courtesy of iStock.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
arrow
entertainment
13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter. She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: no team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


First Look International

Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Getty Images
Getty Images

The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios