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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tattoos both Small and Large

Definitely a Tattoo of the Large Variety.

In Van’s Halen’s song “Tattoo,” David Lee Roth muses on what the marks we put on our bodies mean to us.  He mentions some examples, from the whimsical (Elvis, a hula girl, dragons), to the more concrete (the symbol or number of a particular branch of the military one served in).  He wonders, “Why is the crazy stuff we’d never say, poetry in ink?”

In Kushiel’s Dart, author Jacqueline Carey hypothesizes a world populated by the Biblical Nephilim, descendants of both humans and angels.  Phedre is a young woman who was sold into slavery as a child.  She eventually is trained as a servant of Naamah, which incorporates such diverse roles as courtesan, scholar, and spy.  In order to win her freedom, she must save up whatever portion of the money she earns that her master allows her to keep.  She uses this to fund work on a large and complex tattoo.  When the completed pattern has been inscribed upon her body, she will have won her freedom.

For those who get tattoos, their bodies may serve as a metaphor for how they wish to make their mark upon the world.  Most of us confine such energies to success in our given careers, raising a family, building a fortune, or climbing the greasy pole of power.  Some choose to make their mark upon the world in a more literal way, by making or funding statues, or having their names grace important civic structures.  Twenty years ago, the artists Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude made us see the California Grapevine differently, covered with yellow umbrellas.  Those umbrellas have long been gone, yet everytime we drive through the Grapevine, I remember how they transformed the landscape. 

Then there are those whose physical and artistic imprint upon our world is more lasting, such as Thomas Taylor and school master John Hodgson, who in 1857 led a team of students and volunteers to fashion the Kilburn Horse.

I cannot imagine the daring of those who created the huge white horse on the hillside, nor the time and effort involved in fashioning it.  But according to Alf Wight in James Herriot’s Yorkshire, the village celebrated its completion with two roasted bullocks and more than a hundred gallons of beer.  The giant horse certainly put Kilburn on the map, and I suspect that’s reason enough for the town to have retained it.

I’m not sure whether I really like the Kilburn Horse any more than I like the idea of inscribing a tattoo on my skin.  On the one hand, the Kilburn Horse seems an unnecessary blemish upon an otherwise beautiful hillside.  Then again, someday I’d like to visit two distinctive locales in South Dakota.  Most visit Mount Rushmore simply to view the faces of the four American presidents chiseled into the mountain.  I’d like to visit not only for that reason, but also because of the dramatic final chase scene set there in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “North by Northwest.”  I’d also like to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, a monument still being carved out of Thunder Head Mountain.  If it’s ever completed, it will become the world’s largest statue.  Every time I think of it, a chill ripples along my spine: not because of the image being carved, but because Logan’s climactic fight with his friend Francis takes place there in the Science Fiction novel Logan’s Run, written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. 

Who's going to make a saddle for this guy?

So perhaps such lasting imprints serve an important purpose.  For some, Elvis, Hula Girls, and Regimental Symbols may epitomize what’s most important in life.  Maybe the people of Kilburn wish to constantly remind themselves of how vital the horse was to the life and health of their village in earlier times.  Ultimately, it’s not up to me to decide the “rightness” or “wrongness” of how others mark their bodies or their patch of the world.  It’s my job to appreciate those people for who they are, what they do, and the tremendous diversity they add to our world.

(Hopefully) Making my mark on the world,
Dragon Dave

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