|Leeking Ink #28 Table of Contents
Still Life with
(also see the New Olreans Photo Gallery)
On the coldest day of the year in New Orleans, I got my first tattoo from a woman with the most brilliant piece of body art I had ever seen.
I had wanted a tattoo for about the last ten years. I considered getting one when I was 20 with an animal rights design and slogan. My ideals are still the same, but my artistic sensibilities have, I hope, matured. I have visited tattoo parlors in the US, Canada, England, and Scotland, waiting for the right moment and the perfect image. I really liked the tattoo studio I found in Edinburgh, Scotland, but the logistics didnt mesh. I have hemmed and hawed about this for years. Everything had to be just right. I was already thinking about tattoos beyond the first one when I realized that I needed to get the germinal ink-shock out of the way and move on. It was like losing my virginity I held out until my late teens and then took a get it over with approach. The first tattoo was opening a door to future tattoos, but I had to jump that initial hurdle. Oh, and for the record, the tattoo was more fun and memorable than that whole dreary virginity thing.
We were in the airport shuttle looking through our scraps of tourist propaganda when I noticed a few tattoo parlors listed. The idea spontaneously reappeared, as it has every time I find myself in a new or different city. A city where I could be anything or anyone, awaiting that perfect moment. The idea lodged itself and gnawed at me overnight.
We arrived at the hotel, freed ourselves from our luggage, and took a walk into the French Quarter. We had Pimms Cups, a delightful concoction of a mild gin derivative, lemonade, and 7-Up, at the Napoleon House, a historic bar and restaurant (www.napoleonhouse.com), and wandered until dark. On the way back to the hotel for a respite, we noticed Eric Burdon was playing at The House of Blues. Patrick was keen to see him perform House of the Rising Sun in New Orleans, so we set the alarm so we could take a nap until showtime. The volume was turned down on the alarm and we slept through the whole show and until the next morning.
We spent the next morning wandering around drinking coffee and booze at the 24-hour bars. It is a beautiful walking city and the buildings and architecture were everything I had been promised by friends and literature. Patrick decided to take the opportunity to get his haircut by women obsessed with Marilyn Monroe.
By mid-day my tattoo itch needed to be scratched. We walked up Canal Street to Electric Expressions. I looked at the flash and wondered if this would be The Place. The Time. My decision was impromptu, so I hadnt brought any artwork with me. I was drawn to what looked to me like an old typesetters design and asked the woman behind the counter about getting this tattooed on my lower back. She was striking, with a resemblance to Lucy Lawless (Xena) straight black hair, tall, and of course tattooed. I felt at ease talking with her and she understood my idea about doing the design in black and red-brown, making it a bit more organic, instead of just plain black.
Supersonic Sage told to come back at 3pm, which gave me a few hours to rethink my decision. I was back at the shop at 2:45. She applied the design to my lower back and went to work. The sensation ranged from a mild vibration to needle pricks, but it was nowhere near as painful as some of my piercings. When she was done I rose from the chair and noticed a clipping of an uncredited quote on her desk. I pointed and blurted out Tom Robbins. She smiled and lifted her skirt to reveal a replica of the book cover from Still Life with Woodpecker on her thigh. In an alternate universe I was in love. It was the coolest tattoo I had ever seen. I knew in that instant that she was the perfect person to give me my first tattoo. It was the right time, place, design, and most importantly the right artist.
I buzzed out of there, as happy about her tattoo as I was mine. My back was tender, but all had gone well.
The following day we continued to walk every nook and alleyway, and even took a brief streetcar ride. We became habitués of the farmers market, returning each morning for seasoned nuts and snacks. We rode the free ferry across the Mississippi River to Algers Point and peeked at the Marti Gras museum, without actually going inside. We also discovered the N. O. Pharmacy Museum (www.pharmacymuseum.org), a fascinating museum devoted to preserving the history of pharmacy, medicine and healthcare. They had everything from voodoo cures and leeches to pharmacists jars and medicines and even an herb garden.
That afternoon we stopped in for more Pimms Cups, which made the stroll into Jackson Square that much more colorful. We were duped into becoming part of a street performers act, which required we become two parts of a four-person human knot and have knives and fire juggled above our strained bodies as he pulled the stools out from under us. It was a highlight of the trip, despite the threat of dismemberment.
We tried to go to an old-time burlesque show at the Shim Sham Club, but it was an off week and there was a goth band playing instead. It was dreadfully cold, that damp cold that normally warm, tropical places get. The regulars, one of whom admitted she didnt own a coat or even a sweater, were hiding indoors, leaving us lowly tourists on our own. The evening streets were rather empty, making me wonder what I was missing.
Our long weekend came to a close on Monday. The weather had finally warmed up and we had time for one more lap around the sunny French Quarter. I bought the dogs presents at Three Dog Bakery (www.threedog.com) and had one last Pimms for the proverbial rode.
The tattoo had become abraded from all the traveling and was itchy as hell for the first week. I was pleased with it and contorted to see it at least once a day for the first week. Now I enjoy just knowing it is there. I dont intentionally show it off, but it does occasionally slip out if I am wearing a short shirt or low cut jeans.
I prefer to keep this first one and future tattoos largely covered from public view because they are personal for me. That is not to say I dont enjoy looking at other peoples tattoos, but they have chosen to display them. There are thousands more we pass each day that are hidden from us.
I enjoy it most when art and function co-exist and this is how I perceive tattoos. They can be beautiful forms and extensions of the body they occupy. An accentuation of the whole, like a decorative ironwork fence or stained glass. There are plainer, more functional ways to guard and let light in, but that doesnt suit everyones taste. I happen like to adorn my dwellings and thus I know the tattoo needle and I will become better friends over the years