Monday, July 30, 2012

Tattoos...and the Story of a Rhino

Nothing will reveal a person’s propensity to stereotype and leap to conclusions more than a good old-fashioned tattoo.  Seeing someone with body art (which is how I prefer to call it, as you will see shortly) conjures up all sorts of reactions in people, often of a visceral nature...both good and bad.  Someone will say a particular tattoo is really cool or really gross.  Note the adverb “really” gets thrown into the comment, often leaving little middle ground in which a coherent discussion can take place.  Minds are made up, assumptions drawn, and stereotypes promulgated.   Women with tats are sometimes seen as tramps and immoral, and a man must be either a biker, spent time in prison, or an otherwise less than savory character. 

How do I know this, you may ask?  I tell people I just had a tattoo placed on my bicep…and wait for the expressions. The immediate ones are either pleasant surprise and genuine curiosity, or a frown of disapproval.  Some take a little more time for the thought to register, largely because on the surface I don’t seem the type to have a tattoo.  Yet, that is precisely one of the reasons I did get one.  Among other things, I take a certain pleasure in shaking another’s impression of who I am.  On the surface I may look fairly traditional, with my hair (or what’s left of it) cut short in a conservative style and my dress mainly of a business nature.  I adhere to the philosophy that one cannot…should not, judge a book by its cover.  We are often admonished that beauty is only skin deep and we should look beneath the surface to find the real person. 
People get tattoos for a multitude of reasons.  Many do so to memorialize important events or others that had an effect on them (hence the plethora of “Mom’s”).  Butterflies are popular among young people to symbolize surviving a difficult period of life through the emergence from a cocoon.  Aside from the delight of shaking another’s perception of who I seem to be, I also like the idea of a symbol that represents a special time, or in my case a special trip.  Many of you recall I travelled to Kenya, Africa in 2009.  Without going into the specifics of that trip, I was deeply moved.  One of my traveling companions on that trip had many tattoos, and I was intrigued by them.  Before I boarded the plane to return to the US, the seed had been planted that I would want one to symbolize that experience.
The challenge then became what the symbol should be.  Of the 1200-plus images I took on the trip, I settled on a photo of a rhinoceros…one we had driven far to find, and a rare sight even in the Kenyan wildlife reserve.  That photo became the symbol, pictured here:

Now that I had settled on the image, what should it look like?  Would it be a simple profile or something more elaborate?  Living in the neighborhood that I do, I have had the pleasure of meeting many who have amazing body art…and I truly mean art!  I asked around, and I was told Rowan at Bless This Mess was the person I should talk to.  It would be yet another several months before a happenstance meeting at the Montavilla Street Fair, that Rowan would enter my world.
Rowan is a tattoo artist.  Like many artists, she looked at me somewhat askance when I introduced myself and explained what I wanted. (Remember what I said about appearances and how I don’t necessarily fit the image of a tattooed person?).  However, her interest and later excitement grew after I showed her the photo.  A few days later she sent me a sketch of how she would do the tattoo.  A few more exchanges and we set an appointment.

I would be untrue if I said I wasn’t nervous.  A tattoo is permanent…and then there is the prospect of possible pain…or of a design gone awry.  What then?  But Rowan is a true professional.  Watching her procedures before I even bared my arm was impressive and helped allay my fears.  There are so many safety precautions, many mandated by the State and others that just seem a part of her professional demeanor.  Before becoming a tattoo artist, she was a graphic designer (which explained the quality of her sketch).  Her excitement grew as the image slowly manifested itself on my bicep…as did mine.  (Yes, I took the photo, with my iPhone.)

Thoughout this process I learned a lot about tattoos and tattoo parlors.  Most of us think of a place we walk into and choose a design out of hundreds on the wall or in a book.  Those are called flash shops.  Bless This Mess (and Rowan) is not one of those, but instead a custom shop in which a design is specially created that is unique to the customer and to the artist.

Almost four hours later, we were done. I am still carefully applying my skin treatments as the skin heals, but each day the initial redness abates and the true colors become more apparent.  It is difficult to see but the colors are basically grays, black and a hint of golden grass in the foreground.  What is particularly interesting is the shading and detail in the image of the rhino. 
I am thrilled!

In case you are interested, here is a link to my blog about the trip to Africa, and a link to Rowan's shop:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ode to an Awesome Neighborhood

I am very lucky!  I live in one of the awesome neighborhoods of Portland.  This city has always prided itself on livability, and Montavilla has seen an amazing resurgence over the past ten years or so that exemplifies that quality.  My past posts have raved (perhaps ad nauseum for some of you) about the Montavilla Farmers Market, and it certainly is an integral part of the neighborhood's livability.  Yet there is so much more, such as the local businesses, stores and restaurants, not to mention the cultural opportunities. 

For the second year, the Montavilla East Tabor Business Association (METBA) organized a street fair, where streets are closed to traffic, tents erected and music abounds.  Even more delightful is that the weather cooperated this year (as opposed to the record rainfall at last year's inaugural event).

Meet Nicole (on the left), who owns Union Rose, a women's clothing store that celebrated it's 5th anniversary this weekend.

Montavilla (which is a shortened version of Mount Tabor Villa) was a small community dating back more than 120 years on the trolley line that connected other towns to Portland.  As you drive down SE Stark Street, the architecture is reminiscent of those bygone days. 

This is Bethlehem.  She owns Salon 419, just off Stark St.  She cuts my hair...yes, what's left of it still does need cutting.
Around the corner is PastryGirl, a bakery that makes the most amazing cakes and desserts...and blowing the bubbles is Laura, the owner.

Down the street is Milepost 5, a collection of artists and performers, who graced us with their version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

 Music abounded, with guitars, banjos, keyboards...and yes, even a saw.

Portland is known for being a dog-friendly city, and that means dogs of all sizes, from ones you could hold in a pocket... ones a little larger.  This greyhound used to be a racing dog but now has been adopted.

The Humane Society also had representatives with adorable puppies.

Could you say no to a kid holding a little dog?? They knew what they were doing....every dog found a home here.

 Meet Duke.  No, he's not up for adoption.  I met him walking on the sidewalk, and I'm not sure if he was expecting a treat from me when I called his name.

 ...and then you have pets who don't require much feeding at all.  In fact, this one seemed a lot more agreeable than my two cats, but then there are some strings attached.

Meet Lulu Moonwood Murakami (left), owner of Lulumoon featuring art dolls and mixed media art.  I loved his hat.

This is Rowan, from Bless This Mess, our local tattoo shop...and no, the young lad is not getting a tattoo but a painting. 

Of course, this is an election year and our two candidates running for Mayor paid a visit.  Above is Charlie Hales standing with Beth, Treasurer for both METBA and the Montavilla Farmers Market and Emily, the Market's Volunteer Coordinator.

 Mayoral Candidate Jefferson Smith (middle) also paid a visit.

 There were kick-boxing demonstrations...
 ...and a hula hoop contest.

This is Finn Doxie.  He plays the guitar, and she a celtic harp.  Together they played contemporary music in a new and delightful way. 

 And yes...there was dancing in the street (though mostly mothers and daughters).

All was well until a balloon escaped and sought freedom into the clouds...much to the chagrin of this little girl who until that fateful moment danced with great exuberance. 

The market still ran during the fair, and so did the Chef Demo with Abbey Fammartino of Abbey's Table. 
This day was Michael's last day as the Market Chef Demo sous chef, before he takes a position across the country.  He was presented with a gift book, and his apron will be retired.  (Actually we're letting him keep an apron as a memento of his time with us.)

Montavilla is a collection of small businesses, fabulous restaurants, bars, shops and even our own theater.  The Academy Theater had closed decades ago and saw a number of uses until its resurrection a few years ago.  It has been faithfully restored to its former glory that dates back to the '20's.  It's nice to sit in a comfortable chair, watch a movie while sipping a beer and eating a pizza...and get to walk home.'s a pretty awesome neighborhood.

(A note to those of you who graciously posed for me as I pestered you with my camera, but didn't see your pic patient.  I took more than 300 images that day and not all could be put into this blog.  I will find another way for you to access them.)

Some links, for your viewing pleasure:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Wisdom of Razi...and Flowers

My travels brought me to Denver, Colorado this past week, for a series of meetings and other such stuff.  As usual I also try to get away and sightsee a little.  Rather than simply post nice photos and give boring descriptions, I also like to wax philosophical on these occasions.  The opportunities simply abound, and it was during my cab ride back to the airport I had such an encounter.

The driver's name was Razi.  He was from Casablanca and has lived in the US for 20 years.  Being an immigrant myself, I am always fascinated with the stories of others and learning about their journey.  Somehow our discussion went from Moroccan influence on Spanish architecture, to the contributions of other civilizations over several millenia.  Though he didn't say so, I suspect he follows an Islamic tradition, and we discussed Arabic contributions to our English numbering important thing for us engineers.  That's when he made an interesting comment, about how each civilization's contributions makes the next one better, and so on.  Were it not so, he said, it would be as if all the flowers look the same and are the same color.


I had visited the Denver Botanic Gardens earlier, and Razi's comment brought the deliriously beautiful displays back into my mind.  It is true, you know. As I wandered about the Gardens and the tropical conservatory, I was treated to a vast array of plants, insects...and yes, lovely colors.

Inside the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory one finds an amazing collection of colors and shapes. 

The Conservatory is a structure of interlaced concrete arches, and made possible through the estate of Claude Boettcher, of the Ideal Cement Company (hence the concrete, of course).  It is the largest single tropical conservatory in the US, and my images don't even do it justice.  It's a beautiful place.

The surrounding gardens have all sorts of themes.  The water lilies are in the Monet area, in which I could've lingered for a long time.

 I've heard this referred to as a "Chocolate Sunflower", and the backlighting by the sun apparently pleases the honeybee.

Of course, gardens need water, and water attracts insects, which become food for larger insects like this Dragonfly (and yes...I'm certain someone will correct me in saying this is something different.  Please do.  I don't mind learning more about these gorgeous creatures).

Visiting a garden such as Denver's, and meeting philosophers like Razi are truly the spice of life.  Especially when we are faced with the tragedy of the shootings in nearby Aurora, Colorado (which occured not long after I left Razi's car), it is good to be reminded of the beauty of our world

See the links below for more information on the gardens.