Just hours before my plane ride from Italy back to America, I purchased a ring at Florence’s famous San Lorenzo Market. Originally, the reason I woke up at 8 am that morning was so I could run to the market place to purchase souvenirs for family members, which I neglected to do until the very last day. However, when I arrived at the market, I stumbled upon a tiny little Italian woman who was selling fake jewelry. I quickly browsed her booth and then I spoke to the woman in butchered Italian, “Quanta Costa?” as I pointed to one piece of jewelry that caught my eye. As I tried on the little turquoise ring, she whispered in my ear, “4 Euro. Bellissima.” As the tears began to fall from my eyes, I gave that little woman a hug and walked away.
I will never forget that day. I will never forget that feeling. I will never forget that hug. The emotions I felt that day still give me chills. Every time I look down on the ring I’ve been wearing on my right ring finger for the past six months, I think of Italy. I think of the time I spent there, the family I lived with, the history I encountered. I think of my trips, my fears and the obstacles I had to overcome. That one little ring represents my entire journey from the very beginning until the very last day.
In the introduction of Tattooing the World, Dr. Ellis introduces the reader to 1830’s castaway James O’Connell who was tattooed by Pohnpeian women. Dr Ellis writes that O’Connell’s tattoos made him fully adult in Pohnpei. However, “O’Connell, whose body has been marked by women tattoo artists, remains imprinted with patterns whose meanings he cannot understand” (2). Although he has experienced the Phonpeian culture, he does not have the ability to define what the images actually mean. However as Dr. Ellis writes, “The tattoos still speak. They mean what O’Connell says they mean. They also mean what his audience and other North Americans think they mean” (3).
Although I get a variety of compliments on my ring, no one knows the story the ring holds. Even if I attempted to put into the words the deep meaning, the words would not do it justice. After his return back to America, O’Connell attempted to show off his tattoos through melodramas, circuses, and museums throughout the country. However, many onlookers deemed O’Connell an outcast and ran away from him screaming. This reaction came because O’Connell’s tattoos meant something else to the public. The tattoos triggered their own meaning to each individual who encountered them. As Dr. Ellis writes, “the same patterns that make one fully human in a Pacific community have been viewed as inhuman in a European or United States context” (16).
One of the most fascinating points Dr. Ellis makes is that every interpretation of O’Connell’s tattoos is right. Dr. Ellis writes that tattoos are a living art. Just as we all interpret literature and art in our own way, we all can do the same with tattoos. However, differences in our interpretation of tattoos should not take away from the holder’s personal meaning. Like my ring, we all carry something with us which holds meaning others cannot see or understand. Although my turquoise ring is not a tattoo, I still wear it everyday for the public to see. For this reason, I think we should all take a second and think of the “tattoos” we personally wear every day of our lives. I’m sure you will all be surprised to find that although you may not be “inked” like O’Connell, you still may have a tattoo of your very own.