For some reason I’ve just never been able to commit to the simplest of things, from making plans for the evening to choosing something from a menu. It’s ridiculous I know but please don’t worry, I’m working on it. Today I am going to make a commitment that will stay with me for life; I’m getting a tattoo. Of course at this stage I can’t tell you what exactly, as I haven’t committed to a specific one yet, but I will.
Of all the strange and interesting places in the world to get a tattoo, Amsterdam seemed like a great option. The Hanky Panky Tattoo Studio, like most single men in the area, hides inconspicuously in the middle of the Red Light District. The building to its left acts as a brothel (of course) and the empty beer cans scattered on the surrounding ground gives you not only an insight into what the locals drink but also real sense of filthiness, perfect for what I’m about to do.
A week earlier, having already booked the tattoo appointment, I decided I needed to start thinking about what I wanted. I have heard that most people take longer than this to decide on tattoo choices, but bearing in mind my commitment issues, this was never going to happen.
Suggestions of flaming skulls, piercing daggers, roman numerals, star signs and full sleeves were all considered but ultimately passed on. It was actually a text message that I received from a friend in Switzerland that started to get me excited. After asking him if he knew of any nice French sayings, he wrote back by quoting an author/aviator by the name of Antoine de Saint Exupery.
The quote itself was in French, but the English translation immediately struck chord with me. I thanked my friend, Fuzzy, for the suggestion and began to research.
Chris, the manager of Hanky Panky, had opened his shop early for us to get my tattoo. When I say us, I should mention that for this particular item from my list, a film crew is following me. As part of an advertising campaign for the new Honda called Live Every Litre, we are making a documentary about personal journeys and I am lucky enough to be part of it all. Apparently I represent generation X- perhaps that could be my tattoo?
Chris’ immediate cold attitude gives me the impression that he’d rather be in bed, but we don’t take it personally as he soon explains that it’s not us, he’s just always a little moody after 3 nights of non-stop partying. It’s also something to do with Ajax, his beloved soccer team of Amsterdam, losing the championship last night and that makes him ‘fucking mad!’
I just hope he doesn’t take it out on me.
After finishing his cigarette, Chris opens the doors to his shop and leads us in. We walk down a few steps to see a small cave-like room busy with posters, photos and motorbike parts. In keeping with the strange vibe that Amsterdam is famous for, we notice a strange collection of jars on one shelf immediately on out left. In one jar, famaldahite preserves 5 or 6 pig fetus whilst next to it in another jar is a human penis still attached to two testicles. I double check that this is a tattoo shop before committing to a seat and again I rack my brain for tattoo ideas. Less than an hour until I get my tattoo and I am still unsure what I want.
Claudio, the camera man, ever the professional, darts around the place capturing snippets of footage that will be used later in the editing room. Well regarded in the industry, Claudio’s ability to get the camera in the right places at the right time is incredible, often resulting in him making friends with complete strangers as he points a camera directly in their face.
Soon enough, a Russian skin-head also enters the shop. Tattoos creep out of his sleeves onto his hands like fast growing moss spreading across a neglected garden fence. A separate tattoo breaches the neck line of his shirt, exposing itself to day light, like a whale playing on the ocean surface. This guy is serious.
“So, are you my victim today?” he asks me immediately.
A nervous laugh covers up the realization that this skin head is actually the guy who will tattoo me today.
“Yes, I guess so”
“I’m Yuri, what tattoo do you want?”
The most recent of ideas for a tattoo was a collection of numbered dots which could be tattooed on my arm. Seemingly making no sense, when someone would ask what the tattoo means, I would hand them a pen and tell them to join the dots numerically, hence revealing the hidden outline of, lets say, an elephant.
Humour, important to me as a person, but is this the right thing to base a tattoo on?
It turns out that Yuri had also been partying for 3 days. By the looks of him, I would have guessed more. As we looked through various font styles for a potential tattoo, he lets me know that he hasn’t prepared for this at all. He doesn’t seem to care either.
Being the first tattoo studio that I’d ever been in, I wondered whether the edgy vibe and heir of negativity was common to this industry. I’m still not sure, but as Yuri sits me down and prepares his medical tray with needles, mini paint pots and surgical gloves, I can’t help but worry that I will end up with a tattoo depicting demonic gargoyles or such.
Saint Exupery was a revered French author who lived at the beginning of this century. He wrote many books but was well know for one in particular “Le Petit Prince”. Outlining the journey of a little prince who lived alone on a distant planet, the story tells a journey of self-discovery as the little Prince travels the universe to see what else is out there. Each of the planets he visits is inhabited by an adult character who displays a foolish trait. He meets a King, a drunkard, and a conceited man to name a few.
Surrounded by a penis in a jar, two hung-over tattoo artists and a smirking camera crew, I feel like these fictional characters are not the only foolish ones. I wonder which planet I would live on.
It turns out that when getting a tattoo, not only do you have decide on a design, but you also need a location. This again is something that I avoided thinking about until now.
Everyone has his or her own opinion on this one and so I began to run through all the advice that I had received in the weeks leading up to this moment;
- Make sure it’s hidden when wearing a shirt
- Make sure it’s hidden when looking in a mirror (just in case it’s a bad one)
- Have it on a part of the body that ages well
- Have it on a part of the body that looks good
- Have it in a sexy place
- Make it within reach for when applying sun screen
- Get it on a fleshy part of the body so it doesn’t hurt
- Avoid a ‘tramp-stamp’ on the lower back
As I saw it, there were in fact very few places left that I could actually get a tattoo.
Seemingly without many options, I was lucky that Yuri was aware of my commitment issues and as such insisted that my left shoulder was fine. This was good enough for me, and so onto a chair I hopped in anticipation of a life-long marking.
I’ve always wondered why people get tattoos. Is it to relay a message, pay homage to an important moment in life, or simply to decorate the body? I guess it could be all of the above, but then again I have met people with tattoos that have absolutely no meaning at all; a result of a drunken night in Vegas perhaps?
If I had known that when asking Yuri this same question, it would ignite a huge argument between him another tattoo artist who was now sitting nearby, I wouldn’t have bothered. Sadly though, I did, and so moments before receiving a needle to my shoulder, a horrible tension filled the room.
Claudio has by now made himself well know to all in the room, and after having made the camera-shy Yuri sweat at point-blank with his camera, it was now my turn to be filmed as the electric needle started.
“Stay still now” insisted Yuri as I felt a pinching sensation on my shoulder. Easier said than done, but if the truth be told the pain was not too bad. I’ve often asked people what the pain of a tattoo is like and I’ve heard some great analogy’s. Getting slit with a razor blade was the particular one that I was thinking of at this time, but I think that was a little extreme. I would liken it to a tiny ant crawling across your back armed with an ant-sized dagger which he continuously jabs into your skin as he walks along (his motivation for doing so? I am not sure.)
The tattoo is now underway and there is no turning back.
The seventh, and last, planet he visits is Earth. Whilst walking through the desert, the Little Prince meets a meets a wise fox.
The Little Prince has had an incredible journey but feels slightly depressed. His planet, he explains doesn’t seem unique or special anymore.
Yuri and I manage conversation throughout the sitting, and I learn more about this crazy world of tattooing which I think Yuri fits into perfectly. He obviously has a passion for this and this settles me a little.
The needle sensation soon becomes very dull, almost meditative, and I remember the last part of the Little Princes Journey.
Seeing his pain, the wise old fox decides to share with him a very important secret.
“Here is my secret. It is very simple. On ne voit bien qu’avec le Coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”
Translated into English, the fox’s wisdom reads;
“One can only see truly with heart. The essential things are invisible to the eyes”
As I read message for the first time, in the form of an sms sent to me by my good friend Fuzzy, I knew it clicked with me in a way that made complete sense.
My own journey of 100Things is something that was certainly hard to explain to people in the beginning. It made no sense to a lot of people but I knew that it just felt right. Ultimately, I followed my heart when I started this journey and this is now the way that I live my life.
I’m certainly no old wise fox, but I love the he thinks.
This was to be my tattoo of choice.
Less than one hour after sitting down in that chair, under the concentrated eye of Yuri, my new tattoo was complete (thankfully without spelling mistakes), and Number 63- Get a Tattoo, was complete from my list.
Will this beat my fear of commitment? I’m not sure, but it certainly brings a smile to my face.
100Things… What’s on your list?