Tattoos – More Than Skin Deep

Posted by Cila Warncke

It seems there is a segment of the population who think women who have tattoos are white trash hos. I refuse to take this personally since, on principle, I disregard the opinions of people whose IQs are lower than their waist measurement.

Tattoos 1 & 4

Tattoos 1 & 4

Anyway, I love my tattoos. They each have a very specific and personal meaning and I remember with what is, for me, uncanny clarity the situation and circumstance of each one. My first was 6 March, 2000, my bestest friend and biggest crush Andy’s 21st birthday. Partially out of bravado, I think, I went to Camden Town with my friend Miranda and had an Aquarius symbol tattooed on my right shoulder blade. It cost £55. I was petrified, but I survived. That night I went to Andy’s birthday drinks wearing a hot pink Oasis vest. I have no idea if he noticed my tattoo.

Giddy with my own courage I went with my friend and drinking buddy Lucy to get my second, at the end of term that year. We went to a place on Berwick Street, Soho, that was roughly twice the size of a phone box. I went first, getting an infinity symbol tattooed on my left hip. It was a blazing hot day and I remember looking over at myself in the mirror. I was literally as white as a sheet, sweat pouring off my face. Agony.

The next time the impulse took me was back in Philadelphia, the following autumn, during my final year of university. I persuaded my two roommates to come to a dingy little tattoo place on 43rd and Chestnut. They were good middle-class girls and didn’t take long to refuse to get involved with ink and needles. I wanted a tiny crescent moon on the top of my right thigh. It was a Saturday night and the parlour was full of West Philly hoodrats, goofing around. I had to drop my trousers and sit in the middle of all that, trying to look nonchalant — which at least took my mind off the pain.

After that I eased off. Three seemed like a nice number and I didn’t have a blinding urge to get any more work done. Then I moved to Ibiza. Surrounded by gorgeous bodies adorned with stunning tattoos I started to crave another. One of my all-time favourites is DC10 DJ Tania Vulcano’s tattoo. She is one of those striking woomen who don’t mess with makeup, hair fripperies or, heaven forbid, dresses. She’s always in jeans and a tee-shirt, with just this fabulous tattoo around her right elbow. I wanted one too. My first mission to find the right artist didn’t go well. Inkadelic is the dudely tattoo parlour of choice in Ibiza, where I met Luca. I told him what I wanted and his reaction was: “if you were a big hairy lesbian I might do it, but I think you should have something more feminine. How about flowers?” I could hardly speak for scraping my jaw off the floor and, needless to say, never went back.

Then I happened across an article about Tahiti Tiki Tattoo founder Sandra. She talked about the spiritual and emotional significance of tattoos, how each one she creates is designed for the individual. Curious as hell, I wandered up Calle de Virgen one night, about 1AM, and leafed through her booklet. Unlike Luca who was rude, combative and arrogant from the moment he opened his mouth Sandra projected tranquilty. Ibicenco tattoo parlours at 1AM are inherently hectic, but hers was a sacred space. I felt safe, welcome and understood.

A couple of weeks later I went back for the tattoo, equipped with a mantra to get me through the pain. It’s a line from Lawrence of Arabia

“The trick is… not minding that it hurts.”

Armed with this wisdom, I lay down, took a deep breath and let the needle sink in. After about five minutes my hands went numb. After half-an-hour I started shaking involuntarily. Sandra very calmly told me to relax; somehow, just hearing her say it helped. We talked about Ibiza, about her daughter, about tattoos. Then, before I’d dared hope, she said, you’re done. I walked the two miles home in the warm Ibiza night, elbow sweating in clingfilm, goofy on adrenaline and pride.

This was more than a tattoo, it was an achievement; my gift to myself for surviving my first summer in Ibiza, for daring to leave London and everything I’d called my own for five years to start somewhere new. Sandra designed it on the spot, drawing freehand onto my arm as we talked. The pattern unites Tahitian symbols for freedom and creativity. It is my badge of courage — and an invocation for the future.

My most recent tattoo is another of Sandra’s masterpieces, done in spring 2008. Once again, it’s an affirmation of what I choose. This time, borrowing the lyric ‘like a rolling stone’ from Bob Dylan. Only, as it’s an Ibiza tattoo, it had to be in Spanish. Sandra’s first languages are French and Italian so we spent a week or so settling on the right translation, eventually agreeing on: ‘rodando como una piedra.’ It’s a literal, rather than a literary, translation but the sound and feel and freight of it is exactly right.

Sandra creating tattoo 5

Sandra creating tattoo 5

Kat was visiting at the time and sat by me, bless her, for over an hour while I went pale, fidgeted, gnawed a lollipop stick to a pulp and talked utter nonsense to take my mind off it. When it was done I had that now-familiar rush of delight. It’s dangerous to get addicted to the adrenaline hit, but I’m hooked on more than that. My tattoos are precious because they mean something. They remind me of where I’ve been, how I’ve felt, what I love, who I am and what I want to be. For me, at least, a little ink goes a long way.


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2 thoughts on “Tattoos – More Than Skin Deep

  1. Pingback: The Lost Brothers – So Long, John Fante « Cila Warncke

  2. Pingback: Lady Gaga and Tattoos That Say Something « Cila Warncke

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