We arrived at the little store before 7am Wednesday to find the baguettes arrayed on the cooling racks. An older man sat at the door with a notebook and when we announced ourselves he checked his list, crossed us off and handed over three baguettes, for which we paid a total of about $2. I asked about Internet and he told us eight o’clock, but we knew Miss No would be working then so we had no chance of getting online.
Baguettes in hand like proper French, we started up the hill to find Fati the tattoo artist. The road started out relatively flat then turned upward in short, tight switchbacks with ever-changing views of the bay. We had no directions, just up there and ask but it was just after seven and even the dogs were sleeping.
While we were wondering how far to go a pickup truck stopped and we asked the driver. He motioned for us to get in and he drove up a few more switchbacks then down a steep driveway where we were met by a beautiful little girl. “Go get your father,” the driver said, and soon out came Fati and we were introduced. We think we understood that the two men are related.
We offered to come back later or tomorrow but Fati parked us on a sofa with a pile of books about the Marquesas while he set up his equipment and cleared off the big table that is his work area. After about a half hour, Fati called me over and I indicated a band around my ankle. I stood on a chair while he marked the top and bottom edges of a band and checked that it was level and even. Then he pointed to his head and asked in French, “Ideas?”
I’d thought about this a lot. We came to Fati because we’d heard that you don’t just pick a design out of a book, that he listens to your thoughts and creates for you. I told him the things that were important in my cruising life. “La mer. Le vent. La lune.” And then I added an element that has come to symbolize for us the intrepid sea traveller. “La tortue.” He nodded, then set to work. He drew on my ankle for close to half an hour, turning me this way and that. When he was finished he told me, “C’est unique.” And it was, and beautiful.
Then came the hard part. I lay on the long table and screwed up my face against the pain as he made the design permanent. His little daughter gave me peeled orange slices and drew a flower on her own leg with colored markers in solidarity with me. It took about an hour and when he was finished Fati marched me to the water hose at the edge of the porch and squirted some soap in my hand. I washed my ankle then he gently dried it and applied Vaseline. Then it was Jack’s turn.
While Fati worked I wandered around, took photos, and tried to imprint this scene in my mind, the view down the mountain, the sleeping dog, the young kittens that kept appearing here and there, the TV and satellite dish, the washer outside in a shed, the laundry hanging everywhere, Fati’s daughter flitting with the bottomless energy of a five-year-old. And always the buzz of the tattoo needle.
We paid Fati, then I pointed at his glasses and asked if he could use another pair. While we were in the States, we’d bought several multipacks of reading glasses of different strengths for trading or as gifts. As it happened I had one in my bag and I passed it to Fati who tried them on. I checked his old ones; +2.00, just like the ones I’d brought. He looked here and there, testing the strength, then smiled at me. They’re yours, I told him. He thanked us, we thanked him, then he asked if we wanted fruit. Always, we said, and he took off through the yard with a plastic bag while we gathered our things and put our shoes on.
We met him on the other side of the house and he handed us the bag, now filled with limes and mangos. We noticed his beehives and he said he collected the bees himself and he pointed way up the mountain. We took a few final photos, then he followed us up the driveway, picking more mangos until we couldn’t carry any more and we said our goodbyes.
We were starving and pulled off pieces of baguette to munch as we walked to the dinghy. Back aboard EV we made plans to head back to Atuona the next morning. We were out of cash and that’s the only place with an ATM and we want Internet, too.
We admired each other’s ink and smiled. We feel duly commemorated.