Things Have Changed (a lot) Since We Were Young


About half a mile from where I grew up

Things have changed since we were young a guest at the Inn remarked recently. It came kind of as the conclusion to a conversation about fast food and home deliveries of food. Working on our restaurant review website I had noticed how many restaurants these days offer take out and delivery, so when that guest’s teenage child asked me, “What was your favorite fast food when you were growing up?”, I must have looked a bit dumbfounded. After a couple of seconds I said: “We didn’t have fast food when I was growing up. All the food was slow.”

“C’mon, seriously. Where did you eat?”

“It was a place called home,” I explained. “Mom cooked every day and when Dad got home from work, we sat down together at the dining room table, and if I didn’t like what was put on my plate, I was allowed to sit there until I did like it. And that could be the next morning or lunch time.”

By this time, the kid was laughing so hard I was afraid he was going to suffer serious internal damage, so I didn’t tell him the part about how I had to have permission to leave the table. And no there was no TV blaring during dinner. Typical table conversations ranged from stories we heard in the village to vacation plans, to politics, religion, school and sports. Here are some other things I would have told him about my childhood if I hadn’t been afraid that his system could not handle it:

• My parents never drove me to school (or even Kindergarten!). The walk to school must have been a little over a mile and was through the neighborhoods. I walked there after breakfast for 9-12 noon classes, walked back home at lunch time, and walked back to school for 2-4pm classes and played my way back home after classes were over at 4pm. Sometime the 4th year of Grade school I got a hand-me-down bicycle that had one speed: slow.  I was the third son in a family of 5 sons plus parents, so hand-me-downs were pretty much a natural. If it was too cold or snowy, I walked.
• We didn’t have a television in our house until I turned 9. It was black and white, reception was accomplished with rabbit ears, and later an antenna on the roof, and the station went off the air at 11pm, after playing the national anthem and a religious message(?). It came back on the air at about 9 a.m. the next day and there was usually news to begin the day followed by women’s exercise and domestic care programs. On some days there was not enough programming available on Dutch TV but we were lucky to catch the airwaves from Germany (all of 2 stations) and Belgium (two as well, one for Flanders, the dutch side and one for Wallonia, the french side) and good old Radio Luxembourg. No wonder speaking Dutch, German and French at an early age came naturally to us.
• I remember listening to the World Cup soccer on the radio and the highlights of the year were the rivalry match between Holland and Belgium and the daily results of the Tour de France.

 Oh and I never had a telephone in my room. The only phone connection in the house was on a party line. Before you could dial, you had to listen to make sure other people weren’t already using the line. But I still remember the phone number 805 which later became 5805!
• Pizzas were not known to us, unless on our summer vacation trips to Italy, and certainly not delivered to our home… but milk and eggs were and our baker bicycle delivered personally our favorite breads and cookies on Tuesday’s and Saturday’s. His customer route encompassed about 30 miles. His name was Bakker Mueller. Of course we had another bakery 200 yards down the road, but Bakker Mueller was special. Harrie Pasmans was our dairy farmer who brought fresh milk and eggs every morning, horse and wagon and all. My older brother Eef loved to jump on his wagon and help deliver in the weekends. Harrie Pasmans lived about 300 yards to the right of us. About three hundred yards to the left was Farmer Roumans, whose horse and wagon delivered fresh fruits and vegetables and potatoes before noon every day. I fondly remember the days that white asparagus freshly out of the ground and the circumference of a thick hot dog, were the culinary highlight on the dinner plate at home: topped with a special softly spiced real butter sauce reduction and slices of hard boiled eggs and small cubes of delicious cooked ham. I felt closer to Culinary Heaven in those days then ever since.
• The butcher shop was 300 yards to the west and offered a delightful selection of meats I’ve never even seen this side of the Atlantic (no not even at Trader Joe’s). Chicken were not sold in stores then. That came later. If you wanted fresh chicken, you went into the coop and selected one for consumption. And I personally can attest to the truth behind the expression “running around like a chicken without a head.” Come to think of it, we ate a lot less chicken in those days than we do today.
• 500 Yards to the East, almost directly on the border with Germany, stood my grandparent’s home, just a short walk through grain fields. If she had wanted to, mom could have watched us walk to our grandparents from the upstairs bedroom. She probably never did, because raising five sons takes a lot of energy and leaves little time I imagine. Mom had a little trick to make sure however that she got some private time with dad. As toddlers we often got half a glass of red wine with dinner. We were asleep by 8, often by our own choice. But Mom never had to worry about us being safe. Everyone in the neighborhood knew each other well and looked after each other. I still remember the names; the Theunissen family, the Donkers family, the Keulen family, the VanderMeulen family (mom’s sister); it was a square mile of pure, fresh, tasty, playful, safe and innocent heaven on earth. Yes things have changed quite dramatically since I was a teenager half a century ago, but at least I can truthfully refer to something called “The Good Old Days!”

Bored With Your Diet and Exercise Routine?

Bored With Your Diet and Exercise Routine?Your new lifestyle now includes a regular routine at the gym and suddenly it feels a bit boring or maybe you have reached a plateau? Well, then it is time to switch it up a bit. When your body gets used to a particular physical activity it is no longer a workout, you are just doing the same stuff on a different day.

Add more time to your workouts. Visit a different area of the gym. If you only use a treadmill, try some light weightlifting to condition your upper body, too. Canned soups and vegetables weigh about one pound each, if you are a beginner and haven’t joined a gym yet, start with those and work your way up to a bag of onions.

I enjoy group fitness classes, so when I feel I’ve reached a plataeu I will add an extra class or two to my weekly routine. Adding more weight and increasing resistance counts, too. Go ahead and add more weight to your barbell, walk faster and/or go for longer distances on your treadmill, and add more resistance to your stationary bicycle.

Mix up your diet as well. If you have been living on salads and steaks, try eggs and fruit instead. If you are sick to death of baked chicken, then for Heaven’s sake, eat something else. Tastebuds change! You may find that you actually like the taste and texture of broccoli! My husband now loves asparagus and Brussel sprouts after years of his refusal to try them!

Boredom is common when you are “dieting” so it is time to add more items to your household menu. You have to find healthy foods that you enjoy to eat, so you don’t relapse. Just remember to watch your daily intake of calories, carbs and sodium. We love microwaved apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon for a guilt-free snack. When shopping in the produce aisle or the locals Farmer’s Market, select a few things you have never tried before. If you don’t know how to cook something, look it up on the internet.

You are much stronger than you know! When you feel your diet and workouts just aren’t working anymore, simply mix things up a bit and continue your journey on that path to a healthier YOU!

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No Freedom in the Nanny State of Mind

Ben & Jerry's Schweddy Balls Ice Cream Under Puritan Attack

I wasn’t sure whether to title this essay “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose” or “Living in a Nanny State of Mind”. I decided against both because I’m beginning to learn that not a lot of people give a hoot these days. Would you be real upset if I told you that we’re on the threshold of losing one of the last freedoms we have left; the freedom to choose what’s on our dinner plate? That’s right, you’d better get ready to stick a fork in that freedom as well.

Margin Calls

Of course you don’t care about what’s happening far away from your doorstep. Why would you care that Denmark is now levying a fat tax on foods with saturated fats. Yeah you can still get it, but be prepared to pay through your nose.
Farm-fresh butter? TAXED!
Cheese? TAXED!
Meat? TAXED!
Bacon? Heavily Taxed and even then not for long anymore

Pretty soon, shoppers will be forced to load up on lower-priced substitutes, made of factory-processed soy byproducts and a lab full of dangerous chemicals—all in the name of good public health, of course. This sin tax is meant to help slash the risk of an early death!!!  Studies have shown time and again that people who eat normal portions of healthful natural animal fats and skip the sugars and other refined carbohydrates, have a much LOWER risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even early death.
But as I said, that is Denmark, so why would you care? But Denmark isn’t the only one leveling the sin tax. Hungary has imposed a tax on foods with high levels of sugar, salt, carbs, and caffeine. Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria have banned trans fats. And Finland, Romania, and Britain are all considering fat taxes as well.

And yes, those are all little countries in the Eurozone, so why would you bother?
Well you should, for several reasons. Number one, because I am originally from that side of the pond and have learned that politicians happily use each others initiatives like butter on bread. Copycatting in the name of human progress they call it. If it works in Denmark, it should work here as well, after all Danish people have claimed top positions in world surveys about the happiest people on earth. But those are margin calls, hard to understand for Americans. The Scandinavian culture embraces different values than the American culture. Scandinavian turn in certain right in exchange for others, essentially because rules and regulations based on size versus population, require different lifestyles. In a country like the Netherlands, one quarter the size of the state of Florida but with the same population, housing regulations based on space limitations may infuriate an American, but are perfectly acceptable to a Dutchman. Lifestyles have developed over many years, inline with personal freedoms and acceptable as common good.
In my opinion however no government has any right to legislate your food choices. Period.

And if we don’t hold on to our rights here in America, we’ll not only be next, but our government will accelerate the legislation beyond the speed of a bullet train.  Never mind that there is a humorless Group in Mississippi trying to outlaw Ben and Jerry’s “Schweddy Balls” ice cream , or that New York’s Mayor Bloomberg seems to think that salt should be outlawed, if Uncle Sam is going to be footing the bill for your healthcare under Obamacare, he certainly will assume the right to determine how you eat (and sleep and drink and exercise and you-name-it).

For everyone’s own good

Consider this your wake-up call. France is announcing a “sin” tax of its own: a dime-a-liter surcharge on sugar-sweetened sodas.
Now, I’m never going to defend sugar – it’s the single largest dietary contributor to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and an early death in all of Western civilization, but I’ll always defend your God-given RIGHT to make your own decisions about your diet, your health, and your lifestyle – a right governments around the world want to snatch right out of your hungry hands.
Case in point: France, where the soda tax is only the beginning.
In an even bigger Nanny State overreach, condiments like ketchup, mayo, salt, and dressings are being rationed and even removed from school cafeterias — while yet another new rule requires raw or cooked vegetables at every single school meal.
Put them together, and a kid who wants to turn something tasteless like haricots verts into a semi-edible side dish will have to smuggle in his own butter and salt.

In France the government claims that these restrictions are “for everyone’s own good” – and that they’re about making the people thinner and healthier. And that is absolute crap.
The French drink, smoke, and load up on fatty meats – and yet they’re actually among the thinnest and healthiest people in Europe. It’s the so-called “French paradox,” but there’s nothing paradoxical about it: All those things in moderation are actually GOOD for you if kept well balanced.

But leave it to the government to screw it up. And mark my words here, they WILL screw it up. The more they regulate what people can and can’t eat, the fatter and sicker the people will get.
After all, some of the world’s “top” scientists and nutritionists get it wrong on diet advice all the time — so what are the odds that some nitwit politician will manage to get it right?
I can give you those odds right here — and it’s spelled the same in French AND English: ZERO.

Think the Nanny State can’t happen here in the USSA?

Think again and pay attention because it’s already happening.
In New York, Nanny Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned trans fats, pushed for limits on salt, and even proposed a soda tax like the one in France. And let’s not forget the city’s recent smoking ban that prevents people from lighting up OUTSIDE.
In California, San Francisco and Santa Clara have banned children’s meals with toys, like Happy Meals. A child’s first lesson in life: Don’t trust in mother when it comes to food choices – trust Big Brother instead.
In Baltimore, the city is handing out $100 fines to restaurants caught red-handed using trans fats. In at least one case it was because the cook chose the wrong brand of “healthy” margarine!
And in Washington, Mrs. Obannany is busily lecturing people on what, when, where, and how to eat. But of course, it’s “do as I say, not as I do,”  as she hesitantly admits her favorite food is French fries – and even says she “can’t stop” eating them… but don’t you dare eat a fry yourself!

Think you know where it goes from here? You’re not even close and I’m just getting started.

Thanks to ObamaCare, insurance companies and bureaucratic employers now work more closely with the federal government than ever – and they’re getting happily in on Nannyism. Pay special attention to the expression Pre-Existing Conditions, because it will be used every time you’ll put in a claim.
And the other side of the coin is that they now have “incentives” – aka discounts – for people who toe the party line: don’t drink, don’t smoke, join a gym, and lose weight. But let’s call that what it really is – because a discount for following some bureaucrat’s health rules is really a surcharge on anyone who doesn’t.
Some employers even refuse to hire smokers – and they’re getting away with it, inside of the law!

Throw in mandatory vaccine laws, school lunch regulations, red-light cameras, garbage monitoring, seat belts, helmets, gene testing and more and the Nanny State is no longer a figure of speech.
There is a song titled “A New York State of Mind”. From where I’m standing we’re looking into the future and it’s called a Nanny State of mind.

No Light until Valentine’s Day

Longyearsbyen 1999

As our days are getting shorter and we’re once again struggling to adjust to a one hour time change just to squeeze a bit more light out of the day, there is a town on Northern Norway’ s island of Spitsbergen, that just entered its annual 4 month long night…Polar Night to be exact.

The 2,000 or so people in Longyearbyen, the earth’s most northern town, located at 78° north latitude inside the Arctic circle, saw the sun set on October 28 and the next time it rises it’s on Valentine’s Day in February, three and a half months later. Of course 2 months after that the town goes into 4 months of Polar Day when the sun doesn’t set.

But for now people living there experience perpetual darkness four months out of the year and even though I usually wake up when it’s still dark outside, even in summertime, I am sure that this extended period of darkness would affect my life and moods.

Dutch electronics giant Philips is conducting a science experiment with a 4 year old product that helps people wake up to increasing light levels, imitating natural sunlight. If it works, people in this arctic town will migrate much less south when wintertime’s polar nights are nearing every October.
72% of Longyearsbyen’s participating population validated Philip’s experiment by claiming that waking up during the polar night was a real daily struggle, while 94% expected the Wake Up Light to improve their daily lives during this period.

Island History

A Coal Miners' Town turned to tourism

Longyearbyen, situated on the westcoast of the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago was discovered by Dutch Navigator Willem Barentsz in 1596. Even though the island were frequented for many reasons by different nationalities, it was never settled, even though its economic importance in mining and hunting,whaling was quite promising. It remained No Man’s Land (terra nullius)  – until 1920 when as part of the Treaty of Versailless, which officially ended Worldwar I, the Treaty of Spitsbergen was signed. This treaty made Svalbard part of the kingdom of Norway, but allowed citizens of other signing nations equal rights to residence, property, commercial activities and research. As a result, people from many nations live on Svalbard today.

With coal being the early energy source behind the industrial revolution, the coal mines on Spitsbergen became of real importance and Lansing Michigan born American Businessman John Munroe Longyear with several investment partners bought assets in coal research and exploration in 1906 and established the Arctic Coal Company (operated from Boston) and build a settlement for workers that became Longyear City, later turning into Longyearbyen (byen is Norwegian for town/city).

The attraction

Due to the discovery in the 1930’s that bodies buried in Spitsbergen were not decomposing, because the permafrost preserved them, people cannot be buried there anymore.
This discovery created the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an Arctic safe capable of storing millions of crop seeds, is located near Longyearbyen. Global Crop Diversity Trust administers the facility. The safe has been designed to protect against natural and human disasters, including global warming, floods and fires, and nuclear holocaust. The site was chosen for both its remoteness and ambient temperature of the permafrost.

Longyearbyen: The Northern Most organized town on Earth

As a result of these developments, an important University Center opened in Longyearbyen in 1993, providing lectures in geophysics, arctic biology, geology and Arctic technology as well as bachelor, master and PhD positions. The faculty consists of 20 fulltime professors, 21 assistant professors and 120 guest lecturers. English is the official language of work, and currently about 350 international students take at least one course per year at UNIS. The student body consists of 50% Norwegian and 50% international students; there are no tuition fees, and most students live in six renovated mining barracks in Nybyen.

In 2009 the airport served 150,000 passenger movements and tourism is becoming a major source of income, in spite of  chilly summers and bitter cold winters.

Let there be Light

As medical science has pointed out the importance of light to human wellbeing, Philips Electronics introduced the Philips Wake Up Light as an experiment to the community, which by those who are participating, is hailed as a fantastic experience which helps alleviating the usual condition of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), thought to be caused by light deprivation and a growing number of mental health specialists are recommending Light Therapy to patients with symptoms of depression.

Philips claims that light gradually increasing in 30 minutes before your set wake up time will positively affect the energy hormones as they are preparing your body to wake up, a statement that is corroborated by most
The Philips Wake Up Light uses a 300-Lux lamp with 20 brightness settings, which is rated to last 6,000 hours.

Interesting is that the experiment is already 4 years old in a digital world that is supposed to instantly get the word out.
The 325 households (people) in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen who got the light that retails around $130, said almost unanimously that at times it was almost too soothing, coaxing them back to sleep to the relaxing sounds of playful birds or wind chimes, an extra that is build into the gizmo, which for a small surcharge can also accommodate an iPhone or iPod for sounds and music of your choice.

I think I just found the perfect Christmas gift.

I Love Reading in the Bathroom

Teach'em Young and They'll Remember Forever

Teach'em Young and They'll Remember Forever

More precisely, I love reading while sitting on the toilet. I hope that doesn’t offend you, because it is a habit that started very early on in life and brought a lot of peace of mind to my otherwise roller coaster existence.
It started at home where my dad, an avid bridge player, hijacked the toilet after dinner for at least 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the story he got into. You were s..t out of luck if nature called during that time frame, because even upper middle class homes in the Europe of the Fifties had only one toilet and one shower/bathroom without a toilet. Sometimes I think that’s the reason why my mother’s sister build a house next door to us, so we could have an emergency exchange toilet or WC (water closet) as we called it.

This whole experience came back to me the other day when we went to see our friends who had moved into a new home in the Fernandina Beach City golf course community. After a good amount of toasting to the Holidays and their new home, the inevitable moment arrived that a visit to the toilet was imminent. Lo and behold their toilet was a typical European little Water Closet next to the front door (just like in Europe) with less than an inch to spare between toilet seat and the inward opening door. I felt like I had stepped back into the fifties, especially after I discovered several books and magazines in a little bookcase.
All at once I remembered the smile on my dad’s face when he told us how he played bridge with Doctor Zhivago or his alter ego actor Omar Shariff. The Bridge Magazine with the pictures to proof it spend at least 2 years in our bathroom. I remembered our timid knocks on the WC door while nervously pacing or crossing our legs to limit the pressure. Sometimes two or three of us were pacing the hallway like people do in airplanes. Mom always went to visit her sister next door after dinner. I guess she knew better than getting caught.
She was also pretty much like my wife today: A toilet speed demon. I can not imagine someone in and out of the door in 30 seconds flat, but my mom did it and my wife does it. Not me…I’ve re-acquainted myself with true relaxation.

Over the years my life became so hectic and ambulant that feeling close enough to a toilet’s comforting abilities, became something of the past…until recently. I do now have a toilet, actually a full bathroom with all amenities, right adjacent to my home office, and I have re-discovered the joy of sitting down and reading. I know I’m still not completely in the peace of mind mode from the early days, since I’m reading two novels simultaneously, Kurt Vonnegut’s 1976 novel ‘Slapstick’ and feminist philosopher Camille Paglia’s 1991 eye opening shocker “Sexual Personae”.

But I notice that my time spent on the toilet is increasing, while my literary needs are being satisfied and that is perfect for me. At my age reading in bed has become sedately interrupted by the Sandman, which means that my average time spent on a novel or biography was starting to become ridiculous. Like 3 to 4 months.
I’m back to my old average of a book a week and perfect evacuations.

I wish you Peace and Comfort for 2010

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Giving Starts the Process of Receiving

Jim Rohn, the Master of Self Improvement

Jim Rohn, the Master of Self Improvement

Life is so absolutely unpredictable and strange that it sometimes seems improbable. Yesterday I took most of the day off to “recuperate” from my MDA Music Marathon fundraiser and in the late afternoon took a couple of bottles of wine over to see a dear friend. For more than a year he had been having an extremely hard time financially as a result of the economic downturn, his home getting under water, his holdings losing 50-60% of its previous value and life becoming real challenging at a time that retirement loomed.

In the past 30 days his “luck” changed and as a result his lease on life changed dramatically for the better. While enjoying a good glass of wine we talked about what had changed recently that turned his life positive again and we came to the conclusion that he got out of his car one day about a month ago, approached someone with an idea and turned the idea into reality. I won’t go into the details of his action, but he decided that he no longer could let circumstances decide for him; he decided that it was not the economy’s fault that he was in his predicament, it was his mindset that was wrong. His action changed a lifetime of one philosophy for a new philosophy and attracted the success he needed to turn his life around.

During the discussion my thoughts wandered to Jim Rohn, motivational speaker extra-ordinaire, and teacher to the motivational gurus and the mastermind behind Personal Development Philosophies. I saw Jim at one of his courses in Atlanta, GA in the early 1980’s and loved the simplicity of his concepts, something we call “Thinking outside of the Box” now. Jim’s approach to self help was simple: Giving starts he process of Receiving.

So while sitting and enjoying my friend and his wife being back in great spirits after a year of misery, I decided I would go back home and do a story on Jim Rohn. As I did my Google search for Jim Rohn this morning, I was devastated to learn that Jim Rohn died yesterday. I had no reason to think about Jim for years, but on the day I do, he dies??… How strange things can be in this life.

If you have never heard of Jim Rohn, I can only suggest you give the following video of beautiful simplicity of concepts 7 minutes of your precious time. It’s more than worth it.

Jim Rohn was an absolute master in peeling all mystery away from the heart of the matter and than rephrase it into an actionable concept. My favorite concept from him is: Success is not something you pursue, it’s something you attract.

I’ll be wondering for a while why my reconnection with Jim Rohn coincided with the day of his death, but I will always be thankful to have shared one of life’s crossroads with him.

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Carrying a weapon? Better have your permit on you

The responsibilities that ome with it.

The responsibilities that ome with it.

So you‚Äôve been through the mandatory concealed weapons class, watched the videos and shot a weapon at a gun range.¬† You’ve taken the time to fill out all the required state paperwork, including background checks and finger prints, packaging them all up to be sent to Tallahassee along with the $100.00 + dollars required to¬†pay for the permit.¬† Then the wait, and more wait and then even some more wait. If¬† you are¬†not a patient person your may be in for a shock as to how long it will actually be before the day finally comes that your permit arrives.¬†Four to five months is not unusual. A lot of people here on Amelia Island have applied for the permit in the last year.

So, now that you have your permit you feel empowered, safer somehow now that you can carry a concealed weapon, either on your person or in your car.¬† Things are good right?¬† It’s all legal. What could possibly go wrong now that you have the permit?¬† I can sum that up in two words,¬†‚ÄúA LOT‚Äù.¬† For most of us having the freedom to carry a gun is relatively a new thing.¬† I have talked with people who seem to be as comfortable packing a concealed weapon as they do with car keys in their pockets.

Here’s where things typically go bad with those of us who have a permit but lose focus on the huge responsibility that comes with it.  First we forget that the permit should be on us at all times when we are actively carrying a gun.  This may sound like a natural, but I have several friends that confided losing their permit, but are in the belief that if there’s an issue, the police can always perform a quick check up to verify, that they are legal to be packing.

In a conversation recently with a senior officer¬†of our local law enforcement agency,¬†he assured me that this was not the case at all.¬† The law clearly states that having the permit with you is a requirement.¬† Should you have the need to produce it but can’t, things may get a little hairy for you.¬† I asked if a copy of the permit was allowed and his statement was it was better than nothing but the original needed to be close by at all times.

Another problem area with a newbie who carries a gun in a car is that they tend to forget about the weapon, especially¬†when they have other occupants in the car, or even worse, kids curiously digging through the glove box in search of gum or candy and come across a loaded weapon.¬† This could happen even if you’re not in the car at the time and guess what, you¬†will be¬†the one liable, because it‚Äôs your weapon.¬† Having a permit is just the beginning when it comes to responsibility¬†for those who elect to carry a weapon.¬† You should be constantly aware of the do’s and don’ts and all the places and circumstances that even a permit still won’t permit you to carry a weapon.¬†Be responsible by keeping guns safely away from small children and anyone you associate with.
Remember that the burden and responsibility lies completely with you at all times, regardless if you’re actually  carrying the gun or just storing it.

Tattoo You

The SS Fantome Tattooed on Casey's Back

The SS Fantome Tattooed on Casey’s Back

No I’m not talking about the 1981 Rolling Stones Album I still have in my collection. I’m talking about the way people Tattoo You into the corner of their, often ignorant, set of morals and beliefs. Here on Amelia Island we have at least a handful of Tattoo parlors and considering the healthy amount of Pirates the town features, they must be doing okay.

The thought of ever getting a tattoo was completely alien to me until about 5 years ago. Coming from a Dutch middle-class catholic academia background, tattoos were taboos. My parents’ stance on Tattoos was that a human skin is not supposed to be a canvas so why for heaven’s sake would you want to paint it with needles and ink. Little did I know that this somewhat shortsighted position was the inevitable result of a strict Christian upbringing. But as a consequence for most of my adult life, tattoos were at best a peripheral observation. My sailor buddies had tattoos, some people in the gym carried tattoos in usually hidden spots and frankly I cannot remember ever dating someone with a tattoo, in spite of having played in rock bands and being heavily involved in the music scene where tattoos are more common than groupies. Then 5 years ago for the first time in my life, I truly committed to a relationship and to confirm that, both she and I got tattooed ring fingers with each other’s name. Our only ones to date.

But as times changed I found myself surrounded by friends with at least one or two tattoos and I became intrigued by the history surrounding body art.
And frankly some body art is simply awesome and more importantly for many people it enforces meaningful parts of their heritage. Last week, when reliving my story on the fate of SS Fantome, the once flagship of Captain Burke’s Windjammer cruises, I was shocked into the discovery that my friend Captain Casey Plantefaber had passed away. The last thing I’d heard from him after the bankruptcy of the Windjammer operation was, that he was down in Panama trying to work something out for “his” Polly, the ship he captained for so many years. It also reminded me of the lesser known story, that caused him to have the SS Fantome tattooed over the entire surface of his back. Casey was supposed to have captained the Fantome on her last doomed voyage into hurricane Mitch back in 1998 off Honduras. A last second change of plan kept him out of harm’s way, but he honored ship, skipper Guyan March and crew with an enormous colorful tattoo on his back.

I had always quietly assumed that body art was regarded as pagan behavior and therefore unanimously discouraged of even forbidden by Christian Religions.
So in recent years, since I have departed from my ignorance about tattoos and the people that proudly wear them, I have also learned that this assumption was pretty much head-on, because it turns out that the art of body tattoos had been widely spread across the continents before the Christian churches started sending out their missionaries.
I have since made it my aim to study tattoos and find an understanding for the person wearing it. I have learned and read a lot about body art and because of it, have become a better person.

Historic Perspective

Before the religious relationship was created between tattoos and pagan beliefs, body art was a worldwide practice. The oldest proof of this statement dates back to the discovery of the 5000 year old bronzeman Otzi the Ice Man in the Austrian/Italian Dolomite Mountains in 1991. The perfectly preserved body revealed 57 tattoos! From the Mountains of Western and Southern Siberia to New Zealand and from the American Indians to the “Horos” in Japan, the art of tattooing was used for status, recognition, magic, religion, social and cultural belonging and also markings of punishment. The Horos (tattoo artists in Japan are widely considered the undisputed masters of body art) and typically their use of colors, perspective, and imaginative designs gave the practice a whole new angle. The classic Japanese tattoo, is not surprisingly a full body suit.

And that now makes it so liberating. Tattoos were never and are no longer exclusively for criminals, outlaws, sailors, circus performers/gypsies and gangs, a belief that had been pushed upon us in Western Christian and Muslim circles since Missionaries and Preachers took the high road. Case in point may be the story of devout Catholic French naval surgeon Maurice Berchon who in 1861 published a personal observation disguised as a study on the medical complications of tattooing. Result, the navy and army banned tattooing within their ranks.

The origin of the word Tattoo stems from Polynesia and unlike contemporary tattoo art, which is often an individualized statement of modernity, traditional tattoo in Polynesia not only enhanced the beauty of the human body, but marked social status, conveyed symbolic hidden meanings, and proclaimed its maker’s artistic ability. The Polynesian term, tatu/tatau, is the origin of the English word tattoo. It was carried to its Polynesian high points in the Marquesas Islands, where high-status men were completely tattooed, and among the New Zealand Maori, although considerable portions of the body were also tattooed in Samoa, Tahiti, Hawai`i, Easter Island, and elsewhere.

The Caribbean Piracy period claims the origin of many tattoos I have seen here on Amelia Island, with the expression “A Pirate’s Life for Me” being the main contender for the popularity top spot. My wife’s 22 year old son has a proud Native American Heritage. He has about 8 tattoos now, I think, that all celebrate this heritage. He got his first tattoo 5 years ago (I gave it to him as a birthday present 4 months before his 18th Birthday). It was right around that time that I started to understand that having a tattoo is more often than not a deep expression of individual belief.
Concentration camp survivors proudly wear their tattooed numerals in a strong belief that the Holocaust should never happen again.

Captain Casey Plantefaber often mentioned that he should have perished that fateful day aboard the Fantome in Hurricane Mitch. Now, eleven years later the Fantome went down a second time; this time as a piece of art on a fine sailor and wonderfully compassionate human being.

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