Monday, September 19, 2011

For Life

It all started, innocently enough, with imitators of servicemen wearing a tattoo on their arm, while some young tourists, inspired by seeing Indian women wearing a small stud in their noses, deciding to do the same. Tattoos and piercing slowly became a queasy but moderately fashionable idea, with young men sporting a modest earring or two and – generally speaking – society’s less-attractive girls found themselves considering a small tattoo on an intimate part of their body, or a ring through their nose or, worse still, their lip. At least the ring could be removed later, probably without leaving a mark.
The first non-regulation tattoo, you might say, that I ever heard of was worn by Erna, an old Danish woman who had been in the French Resistance. She was connected to a group called Les Papillons, and she had a tattoo of that brave collective, put on I hope after the war, high on an inside leg.
Around the same time as Erna, who had merely intended to drive to Lyon but, according to her, had missed the turn-off and not possessing a reverse gear in her ancient Renault, arrived in a cloud of steam in Mojácar, another old-timer called Benjamin Rappaport bought a house here. He too had a wartime memento, this one a number tattooed on his arm in some camp by the Nazis. Later, Sammy, an American pansy, arrived in Mojácar and opened a bar. He had a few blued and faded scrawls on his arms, and in his ear, an ear-ring.
For a while, Mojácar slept in peace. There was a girl with a stud in her nose called ‘Golden Snot’ who caused a small sensation in the eighties, but, in women, piercings and ‘tramp stamps’ were rare and generally un-admired.
But here we come to it: small tattoos and moderate piercing came to the attention of trend-setters, who these days are usually either film stars or football personalities, neither group known for either their intelligence or their humility. Small and coy became large and obvious; self-mutilation became suddenly fashionable.
Tattoos feed on being evident. Their owners choose their site for their visibility, and like to wear a reduced amount of clothing to show off their vanities. Some of these will be tattoos on their neck or forehead, or heavy ear-stretchers, rendering them entirely unemployable. Others, if one is to believe the hype, will have clitoral or penile piercings leaving their friends with the uncomfortable recollection of the story of the two young lovers with dental braces who, in a simpler age, got locked together while kissing.
Some people chose messages in Arabic or Chinese to tattoo across their chest or emblazon on their neck, which may or may not say ‘peace’ in those languages. In fact, they generally say ‘cretin’. Others list their children’s names – or the names of their lovers.
A girl I know has a number of different tattoos, pictures, designs and words inked into her epidermis by a high-speed needle. They hurt, but, she says, there’s a kind of ‘high’ in getting them done. ‘You want more’, she admits.
And in every town, there’s some guy with his equipment, ready to mark you up – for better or for worse – for ever. And with him, his assistant who will pierce your tongue, neck, nose, septum, lip, breast or privates. You may get an infection, but it’ll be worth it. Brad and Angelina both have them.
So, I feel sad for the girls, who have been peer-pressured into having a small ‘thing’ tattooed on their left shoulder, denying them a chance to wear a pretty dress.
For life.

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