Nothing about a commercial airliner reminds you of tattoos and adventure. Sitting inside a pressurized tube looking out at nothing, going 550 mph at an altitude of 35.000 feet is not sobering to the mind. Small tremors reminds you that you are somewhere above mainland Europe. “The small things are the big things” I think to myself, as Rasmus Photoshops the airlines logo into a joke about wizards. Not a very funny one, even though the altitude and that first beer makes it seem so. We are suspended in midair, in no way marveling at the conquest of man and the wonder of it all.
We buy three beers more and agree that 10€ is a reasonable price this close to the stars. A place where the green exit-sign makes no sense at all. The airplane descends to Bucharest as we descend into madness. I think to myself, that just like we travel so does our stories, and I remember the story a friend told me, of the skydiving manatee:
“We were two buddies who had gone to Cuba and were traveling around. We were at a place that had a lagoon and supposedly there were some manatees. So, we go out on this manatee-safari and we’re out there for 3 hours, and there is not a single fucking manatee! We get out to a place called Varadero, which is kind of touristy. We skydive from this old Russian airplane and land down on the beach in our swim shorts and it’s cool. During this journey we’ve been talking about getting a tattoo of something funny, and we agree, that’s what we’ll get! A skydiving manatee. So, we enter a taxi and ask the driver if he knows somewhere we can get a tattoo. And he does. He drives us away from this tourist hell, down into Varadero city, where there is… nothing really, and he cruises up next to some random house, rolls down his window and yells at the house. 1,5 minute goes by and then this guy comes out the house with black gloves on and tattoos up his arms, it’s pretty obvious what he is doing, and the place isn’t… well I wouldn’t want to live there…”
Bucharest at 2.30 at night. It is called little Paris and it makes sense. The boulevards, and the Arch of triumph located in the city center, tells that story. But Karl-Marx-Allee in the old East-Berlin is, as far as I remember, also a big boulevard and the soviet architecture and the billboards are present at both places, telling other and not so romantic stories, about men in uniforms. Angus the black cat seems to be in love with my hat. All cats are grey in the dark, and tomorrow Bucharest will be in color.
“…The taxi driver and that guy are talking, and “it’s fine, you can come back in half an hour, there’s a bar down the street, go there and have a beer”. So, my buddy and me, we go down there, and we drink two beers, and we agree it’s a great fucking idea! We also get to the point where it’s a terrible idea, and then back to it being a great idea again. So, we go back to the house and open the door and it’s… I don’t know what kind of fucking place this is. And in South America, you build with aerated concrete that has been covered in sealant. It looks like shit. And we get inside a living room, where there’s a couch, and there’s an old lady in the couch watching these latin novellas, soap-operas, as they do. There’s a cat in the chair, and the old lady isn’t turning around. There is no reaction whatsoever! Is she dead? Is she alive? No one knows! This tattoo guy just walks on, and we go further into the house. On our right hand is a kitchen with some sort of gunk smeared against the wall. No one can make out, if it is shit or blood, or whatever the fuck it is, but in the height of about a meter, it’s simply just smeared. I look into the kitchen and there’s a pile of dirty dishes… I’ve never seen anything like it before or after…”
We are at an old refurbished brewery in the heart of the city. People in orange clothing are swarming around us, showing people to their seats, taking orders and bringing beers and food. The place that used to make beer, is now a place of many things. People are starting to gather here, as the heat of the day dies down and the lightness of evening, slowly as a weak current of chilled paint, is slobbering down on the place. Three guys with grey hair, does a sound check, that is longer than their actual show. The lead singers voice seems to turn from a Dadaistic “Check!Check!Check!” to “Jack!Jack!Jack!” and it becomes almost poetic. At that point a conversation about the ethics of the consumption of meat, has Jack talking about robot chickens genetically engineered from corn. John Maxx of Radical Ink has joined us at this time and a recent tattoo convention is discussed and laughter ensues. Our Romanian host Zeppe is telling me that the Romanian word for “dick” can be used as a comma. He smiles and says “We curse a lot in Romania”, I like the poetic nature of that. Maybe it’s because the shape of the comma is somewhat phallic? Or maybe, it’s because I’ve had one to many of the Romanian beers. Evening is starting its second coating of darkened chill, and the mind wanders.
“…Then we enter a room which is about 4 square meters, 2 by 1,5 meters, or something like that. It’s ridiculous. There’s an old desktop computer, some tattoo gear, a bed with a batique blanket on and a tripod to put your arm on. And that’s it! So, the both of us is sitting on this bed like it’s some terrible whorehouse. Then we try to explain to him, and my Spanish is alright, that what we want is a manatee with a parachute on. Apparently, that’s more Spanish than I’ve learned. It took some time, and he couldn’t quite comprehend why we were getting that, and he tried to find some pictures online, and it was like “that’s not what I want, it’s like this and this”. My sister had drawn a sketch of a manatee which I showed him. “This is what I want… and then add a parachute on top”. He tried to find a parachute, and it was not working, it took 35 minutes. Well, he draws it up, puts it on my arm and I’m thinking “that’s bigger than I thought”, but we get started, and it takes no time at all. My buddy looks at it and says “that’s fucking stupid”, then he had his done, we left and that night we got drunk.”
As we drive into the forests and foothills of the mountains, the country and the population is changing. In a small mountain town, carved into the hillside, a cemetery links the past and the present. Like the horse drawn carriage a few miles back and the Ferrari parked at a corner. Romania is a country of many things, most of them mirroring the very essence of its history. The mountain envelops us in its thousand-year-old embrace. I suddenly feel at peace. The sun is setting behind us and somewhere, outside the car, there's a manatee in a parachute, suspended in midair.