Katrina tattoos.

Just as survivors of last winter's Indian Ocean tsunami commemorated the event with tattoos, some who witnessed Hurricane Katrina are using skin art to recall the event. What's up with that? Is it akin to the conqueror's flag raised atop the vanquished enemy's castle—"I prevailed!"—or the explorer's pennant on the peak of Everest? Or more like a band's tour t-shirt—"I was there."—more of a message to others than to the wearer? Tattoos (or other body modifications) often signal rites of passage: as lore has it, sailors would get a swallow tattooed on their arm for every 5,000 miles sailed, and after 9/11, tattoo artists put eagles and flags on a lot of shoulders. Rufus Camphausen, author of Return of the Tribal: A Celebration of Body Adornment, says body art is "a way to identify who we are in a world that has lost its sense of community"—in this case, the community of shared trauma and triumph over adversity. But people interviewed by Reuters suggest it's just about gratitude for being alive. One woman got a line from "Cabaret" inked on her arm: "In here, life is beautiful," which contrasts the chaos of Weimar-era Berlin that gave the musical its context—something she sees as fitting today. I understand the sentiment, but for me, a simple pinch will do.

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