written on the body
“The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.” Hippocrates
Part of the text was peeking out from the sleeve of her winter coat. It was eye catching. Certainly everyone within view of the slender arm that reached out to hold the rail did a double take. While tattooing has had a resurgence in the past 20 years it has gone through many phases from a silhouette of an animal to tribal symbols and now text – as made popular by Angelina Jolie.
In my mid-20s, after agonising all summer over the perfect tattoo, I came to realise I have commitment issues. I was not convinced that what had meaning to me in my second or third decade, I’d hold the same affection for in my flesh-sagging 70’s. In the end I stayed a cleanskin but not for lack of trying. Around that time I finally gave up attempting to keep my pierced ears open. They spat out even the best quality earrings after a couple of hours. Contrary to the culture I lived in, my body did not wish to be adorned.
Though I promised myself a belly button piercing if I ever had a flat wee stomach. Yeah, like that was ever going to happen. But that's another story.
On the tram, when I saw the text in blood red, I thought of the concentration camp survivors and their involuntarily tattoos. Human beings reducing to a string of digits, a visual imprint for life on the few who survived. In another corner of the blogworld, I have had a stern rebuke for my choice of food blog name. Anything invoking the term nazi is considered by some to be insensitive. Setting up a blog was spur of the moment, unplanned and not entirely thought through (not for me the blog-as-vehicle-to-publishing route), so the choice of name wasn’t chewed over. While I have never wanted to insult anyone, the use of the word nazi has entered the culture increasingly over the last decade or two – with style nazis (and fashion victims), grammar nazis (of which there are many selfconfessed linguistic pedants in the online world) and of course – Seinfeld’s (a Jew himself) Soup Nazi. Twenty years ago it may have been edgy bordering on offensive to claim such a descriptor with flippancy, just as if I’d called someone of Maori blood in my homeland “black”.
In an odd twist the term “nazi” was introduced to me through gay friends, who adopted the descriptor to critique the various behaviours of those they knew. Though homosexuals were a much smaller number than Jews of groups the Nazi regime wished to obliterate, they also required registration pre-war and the mandatory wearing of a pink triangle. Yet as a group gays don’t seem to have an obvious issue with the change of use of the word. Nor modern day gypsies, communists or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Interestingly, the original anti-homosexual legislation bought in under Hitler in the 1930’s was only fully repealed in both East and West Germany in 1994. It is documented that homosexuals in the concentration camps often died at the hands of other inmates.
Stalin’s forced famine in 1932-33 killed 7,000,000 in the Ukraine in an effective attempt to stop the State’s demand for independence, one million more than the inexcusable Nazi holocaust. Stalin managed to kill 3,000,000 children alone in just one year, no gas or bullets – just a slow death through dispossession and starvation.
Even post these horrors that the Western world swore they we would never allow to happen again, genocide continues. One racial group trying to wipe out another in an attempt for supremacy. We switch off images of Dafur because it is not nice to see the bodies of the residents of an entrie village hacked with machetes or hear news of systematic rape and torture. Not nice at all. And let’s not even touch on Palestine. A while ago I sat across the table and shared food with a beautiful Muslim woman. It was hard to miss the scars that peaked out from under her sleeve, not unlike the compulsion I had to read the text in red on the tram riders arm. I gently asked what had happened to her. “It was in the war,” she said. I needn’t ask any further, she was from Lebanon.
We tattoo our bodies with images and words. Language changes and evolves. Sometimes reclaiming a word gives it power. If I am ever called a word beginning with C that refers to female genitalia I say, “Thank you, a c--- is a beautiful thing”.
I’m sorry if jokingly calling myself a food nazi offends. Hitler’s final solution ultimately failed, albeit at the cost of far too many lives. In it’s own way reclaiming and reshaping the word helps us not forget.