I’ve wanted a tattoo since I was in high school. I came up with new ideas every month, desperately searching for the perfect image to get emblazoned on my skin. I never got anything, though, because despite my longing to decorate my body with ink, I knew that I hadn’t come across anything that I thought would mean as much to me in my later life as it did in my youth.

When I went to Greece in June/July, I was fulfilling another long-surviving desire. I’d wanted to go to Greece for at least the past year, but even before then, Greece and the ancient history and mythology surrounding it had captivated me for years. In my high school freshman English class, we were given a research paper. It was called the “Resident Expert” project because the point was to do so much research on one thing that we’d be the “Resident Expert.” (It was a smart way to make us feel high and mighty for learning how to do a research paper. English teachers, take note!) I chose Greek Mythology, specifically Aphrodite, largely out of my ugly nerdy ducking longing to be a swan syndrome.

During my trip to Greece, I connected with the city of Athens very strongly. I’d actually heard a lot of negative things about the city, but I was in love with it from the first few hours I was there. It’s important to note that my week or so in Athens was my first time being alone in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language for more than I day. I had mentioned before that my time in Italy was my first time in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, but I had been there with my tour group. While in Athens, I was 100% alone and far from home, distanced by the length of an ocean and most of Europe (not to mention most of the United States, since my home address was still in Seattle at this point). Much to my delight, I was fine. I was more than fine — I was great. I spent my days going to museums, shopping, eating and reading. I would start each day with a ton of touristy goals: climb to the acropolis, take a day trip to a nearby island… but would usually end up just wandering around Athens, not wanting to waste any time being away from it, or having experiences that everyone who visited would have. I was determined to come away from Athens with stories, with unique experiences, but more importantly, knowing that I had spent my time there doing what I had wanted to do, and not what tour books or other people had told me to. Those days in Athens were, without a doubt, some of my favorites from the trip (not that there was a bad day, really). I had a scary moment or two, but the worst in Athens was better than the worst anywhere else.

The time in Athens with the tour group was some of the best, as well. While we traveled the rest of Greece, the tour guides spoke of Athena (also known to the Romans as Minerva), the Greek Goddess that the city of Athens was named after. One of our guides said that a large portion of the temples in Greece (and nearly all of them in Athens, including the Acropolis) were built in her honor. Supposedly the Greeks considered her the perfect woman, because she has power, beauty and intelligence. After hearing this, and taking into consideration all of the other connections I had with Greece and its culture, I thought of getting a tattoo of Athena. When we stopped in Santorini, one of the last stops of the trip, I bought a gold & silver pendant with Athena’s face on it, thinking that would satisfy the symbolism of this connection. Instead, it just made me want the tattoo more. So I sat on it, and as the months went by, getting the tattoo made more and more sense. So I went to Bowery Tattoo, made an appointment and put down a deposit.

I got the tattoo this Saturday. The design comes from a combination of the image from the pendant I bought in Santorini, and a picture of a statue that I found online. The design & tattoo was done by Ray Jerez at Bowery Tattoo, who couldn’t have done a more perfect job. He has a lot of really beautiful work on his website, and if anyone in the Tri-State area is considering a tattoo, it would be a crime to not go to him. You can see more pictures of the tattoo and the process here.

Before we get to the music, the answer to the million dollar question: “Did it hurt?” Not really. It mostly just feels like someone repeatedly pinching you. Except that it vibrates, too. Towards the end (it took two hours), my skin got a little raw since all of the areas had been tattooed over and over, but even then it wasn’t excruciating. I woke up in the middle of the night with a sharp stomach ache, and that hurt more than the tattoo.

And, finally, here are a few Athena/Minerva/Goddess-themed songs in tribute to my first tattoo:

Ani DiFranco: “Minerva” (download)
David Bowie: “Pallas Athena” (download)
Deftones: “Minerva” (download)
Gordon Lightfoot: “Tattoo” (download)
Joseph Arthur: “Tattoo” (download)
Mercury Rev: “Goddess On A Hiway” (download)
The Who: “Athena” (download)