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  • It was 1992 and I was ready to get a tattoo. The design eluded me for months. It had to be meaningful, and tasteful and of course beautiful. I wanted to wear it for the next 30 years, it would colorize my life.


    Around this time I had just started to do little directionless watercolors; loose puddles of pigment and ink. I followed the meandering lines, little veins of vanity leading me to a secret delusion. Joan of Arc appeared in one of my paintings. I gorged on the conceit. Don't laugh! It really happened. I was laying on a couch in my studio listening to Nirvana and there she was in a little primitive mess I had finished a couple of weeks earlier. It was unmistakable; a flying figure that looked like it was female, streaming hair, a skirt, swords in both her hands fighting off two swirling serpents. It was fate; strangely appropriate considering she was prone to visions of Saints herself. I said don't laugh.


    James the tattoo artist was faithful to the watery style and rendered the painting exactly as I requested. The Maid of Orléans flew un-anchored and bit too high above my right ankle bone. I had choosen the spot. There really is no easy undo, no cut and paste, no erase. I loved her anyway. I was now one of the painted people, the embellished elite, the decorated demimonde


    Several years later, I went to Barcelona and I learned how to travel alone - but that's another story or another poem. Lets just say, I learned the hard way. Argh I wish this story would stop rhyming.


    Fleeing a disasterous arrangement to stay with a friend of a friend, I took refuge in weathered hotel; it was quite nice really, and very proud of its Art Nouveau. I was actually lucky the guy was a psychopath, the place was perfect, the epitome of Barcelona, at least to me. It sat on an narrow cobbled street that was little more than a passage. In the midst of all the historic ambiance, just beyond my hotel door, a very small neon sign had been calling to me for days. It said, "Tattoo." I went to look.


    Tattoo parlors draw the initated like an opium den, a sacred place, a Cathedral with walls of art, buzzing needles and an aura discomfort if not pain; not quite as bad as a dentists office. Once only the source of bravado of bikers and illustrared saliors, this symbol of the rebellous outsider has been discovered by all. (But my story takes place years before that.. of course) This secret of the shamans, this ritual of marking is so empowering, few stop at only one. Tats are a bit like potato chips.


    I loved my ink (just thought I would drop a little insider lingo) and the idea of a tattoo shop made me feel less isolated. It was a language I spoke. Unfortunately it was not one the Castilian man behind the counter apparently shared.


    I noticed the flash on the wall, little roses and dancing girls, I also noticed the elegant hipster in designer black clothes who looked me up and down in disdain as I came through the door. I don't know exactly what he said, but he made a sigh-grunt sound and pointed at the wall of roses and hearts. I tried to explain what I was looking for. I did know some Spanish but he refused to lower himself to that level so I pulled up my pant leg and started to draw on it with a Sharpie©. I drew a swirling line that went from my Joan d'Arc - down around my ankle bone on to the top of my foot. It was at least 12 inches long. I had to smile when I saw his eyes widen at me and I thought I caught a little spark of respect but I could be wrong. It was very small, not even a twitch or a flicker of an eyelash. As though flustered with my inability to speak Catalan, he went to the back of the shop and returned with my Canadian savior; an artist from Victoria, a canuck and a cool one. He understood immediately.


    We spoke quickly only needing a few words and I threw away those old reigns. He blessed me with his art. I left Barcelona the following day feeling as strong as the rebellious visionary now soaring above flames. It was perfect.


    The trip was challenging and life changing. I learned to adapt to my most dreaded fear, to be alone on the streets, no hotel reservations in a city sold out for a festival, where I had to keep a cheat sheet handy to order a cup of coffee. I see now that my need for control was really about fear. Like over art directing my first tattoo, my safe, conservative, restricting, and uninspiring plans would have limited not only my experience of Barcelona that year but all the subsequent misadventures and fond memories of South Africa, Krakow, Prague, Paris, Rome...... Come on, roll with the gag...


    ----


    Perhaps embarrassments, altercations, mishaps and near-misses really do happen for a reason. You learn to close your eyes and just go with the the flow even in the most preposterous situations; being deported from Canada because you arrived at the border 20 minutes late "Oh Canada"... or being locked into the ruins of Auschwitz after closing time, in the dark, in January, in a snow storm and learning that you have missed the last bus AND the last train back to Krakow. These sorts of experiences are a piece of cake, a beautiful asymmetric unique cake, with topsy-turvy precariously balanced layers of exquisite flavors.
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