In Katrina's wake, a tattoo boom in New Orleans (external - login to view)

By Kevin Krolicki
Thu Oct 20, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Natalie, 20, knows what she needs to capture her complicated feelings about Hurricane Katrina and its devastation of New Orleans: a tattoo.

On a recent night at Crescent City Tattoo in New Orleans, she is lined up with about a dozen others to have messages and images inked on their bodies, many prompted by the killer storm that ripped through New Orleans seven weeks earlier.

Tattoo artists report a surge in demand for designs that celebrate New Orleans: fleur-de-lis patterns, "NOLA," after the city's widely known abbreviation, and even a symbol modeled after the weather-map depiction of hurricanes.

Between returning residents, construction workers pouring into the battered city and the National Guard troops preparing to pack up and head home, demand has been brisk.

"It's not like people are getting 'I Survived Katrina,'" manager and resident body piercing expert Erik Clemmer said. "But I think people are happy to be alive."

Natalie, who asked that her last name not be used because she does not want her parents to know she is getting a tattoo, chose a line from the musical "Cabaret," to carry on her left hip: "In here, life is beautiful."

The line conjures the menacing forces swirling around Berlin in the 1930s, she says, adding that it seems apt for New Orleans, another city that has cultivated an image of sinfulness.

"I think it's perfect because outside the world is falling apart," she said.

Seated nearby U.S. Army Spec. Brian Wood, a member of the Illinois National Guard, was getting a lyric from a rock song framed by two pistols needled into his right forearm.

The line from band Killswitch Engage stuck with him as a kind of mantra during 18 months in Iraq and six weeks in New Orleans, especially during the early days of high water and looting, the 20-year-old said.

"This is the path I walk. I walk it with my own resolve," he said, quoting the song. "It means I know what I'm doing. And, I don't know, it just seemed like the time to get it."

Tattoo artist Juju Becker spent days after the late August storm working up designs like "Katrina" written on a Second World War era-bomb, just in case clients showed up asking for that kind of hurricane tattoo.

But, he said, most request a storm-related message that has personal resonance.

A New Orleans Police Officer in uniform, who asked that his name not be used because he was critical of the conduct of other police, came in with a design for himself and comrades in the First District, which now calls itself "Fort Apache."

A badge-like design, the tattoo reads: "Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Police, Fort Apache District."

"We were the only ones that stayed. The only ones that held," he said of his police station in the chaos that followed the storm. "They were shooting at us in the station. We were shooting back. I'm glad people are back now. It was like a zombie movie, man."

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

I donít get it.

But, considering the plethora of events surrounding the New Orleans/Hurricane Katrina catastrophe that I donít get, this rates about as benign as it can get.