Week 40: Island Girl Ink

I’ve been in physical pain lately, so what’s a little more pain? I had previously scheduled an appointment with visiting tattoo artist Soane Tavataina Paninia, who is French Polynesian and now makes his home in Rapa Nui on Easter Island. It was his last week in San Diego inking at the Island TAT Tattoo Shop in Lemon Grove, so I was determined to keep my appointment and make sure my tattoo would be something special.




Getting a tattoo was on my 50 Weeks list, but with a question mark. I have always been hesitant to having something on my body so permanent. But this time, quite frankly, I was going to be a hypocrite. I always warned my kids not to get a tattoo because what you like now may not be something you want on your body 50 years from now. Well, now that I’m approaching 50, I’m a little more certain of what I want, just a little.


I wanted a dragon and scorpion tattoo. Why? Well, my astrological sign is Scorpio, and I was born in the Year of the Dragon. What a combo, right? So, I thought it would make a nice combo in a tattoo.


My friend Rosey suggested Island TAT, which hey I do come from a country with over 7,000 islands, and I’ve always liked the island/tribal look. And since Soane was visiting just at this time and had a couple openings, I felt it was meant to be. Because of the language barrier (Soane speaks French and Spanish), Island TAT resident artist Felix Santos was the one who I consulted with for my design and actually drew it for me. The dragon and scorpion intertwined, with an island tribal feel – perfect.


So one afternoon we go to Island TAT for my tattoo. Gigi went with me for support, especially since she has been my unofficial nurse during my pain filled days. Again, I was still in some pain that day, but what the heck, it’s now or never.


We go to the tattoo room, and we verify the location of my tattoo — a secret spot (see if you can figure it out – oh wait, the pictures give it away). I lay down, expose myself, and close my eyes. I grab Gigi’s hand, tight squeeze as if I’m in labor. He rubs alcohol on the spot, and I hear the tattoo machine turn on. This is why I haven’t been to the dentist in ages, I hate hearing the machines. Soane begins. Hmm, doesn’t really hurt, so I let go of Gigi’s hand. I think I will take a nap.


Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced the pain of childbirth, including getting induced with pitocin with no epidural for hours — I was trying to be supermom and give birth without drugs, stupid me. But the insertion of the tattoo needles wasn’t that painful at all. Depending on the area he was working on, the worst I felt was a sort of pinching. I think the more fat you have, the less pain you experience. Later when Soane was filling in certain areas, it actually seemed a little ticklish.


The inking procedure lasted a little more than an hour, and I was pretty relaxed the whole time laying there. My other pain seemed to have diminished too. It was almost like getting a massage, but not really.


When it was complete and I took a look, wow, I immediately thought it was beautiful. I admit it was larger than what it seemed on paper, but I suddenly felt so proud to have such an artistic piece on my body. Now, I sort of wished it was in a more visible part of my body. I want to show it off, but I will need to find some creative cut out clothing designs.


Although getting a tattoo was a question mark item on my 50 Weeks list, I’m glad I got inked. Would I get another one? Yes, but it has been commented to me that it’s great that I got it checked off my list, but please do not get another one. I guess I will comply.


What do my teenage sons think? They think I’m crazy. That I’m getting old and it will become a glob later. And it’s a good thing I didn’t get a tramp stamp.


As Nike says, just do it.


Island TAT Tattoo Shop, 7912 Lester Ave., Lemon Grove, CA 91945, 619.469.1583, www.islandtat2.com, Facebook: Island TAT Tattoo Shop. Tattoos are not cheap, my design total was $200, designed by Felix and inked by Saone. Elaborate tattoos can take hours, and over several days and will be priced accordingly. Soane returns to San Diego once a year and is also on Facebook: Soane Tavataina Paninia

tatartist  islandtatfelix

Week 39: Stomping on Those Grapes

I Love Lucy, and one of my favorite episodes was Lucy’s Italian Movie shown in 1956 — of course I was watching reruns. While in Italy, a film producer asks Lucy if she’d be interested in auditioning for his new film entitled “Bitter Grapes.” To do some research for the audition, Lucy goes to one of the only non-automated wineries left in the area outside of Rome, gets picked to crush the grapes due to her large feet. And as situations always go with Lucy, she eventually gets in a falling down, grape soaked brawl with the Italian woman stomping in the barrel alongside her.


Being that grape stomping was on my list (A few of Lucy’s antics are on my list, and for one I just couldn’t get that candy factory job!), and we were starting birthday month celebrations for my friend Lynn, the annual Julian Grape Stomp Festa was the perfect activity for this week.


It was another hot weekend, but we didn’t think much of it. Mistake. As Lynn, Gigi and I make our way north, then east, through Poway and past trailheads to popular mountain hikes, down the main street of Ramona to rolling hills to Santa Ysabel, then a right into the curvy mountain roads when at Wynola we turn left towards the outskirts of Julian to our final destination: the Menghini Winery. I look at the temperature and it was the high 80s. It is hot. Am I repeating the miserableness of last week’s pow wow? Nah, I think this may be worse.


As usual, we’re not as prepared as we should be. We park in the dusty dirt lot and get in line for admission. We start to see people with beach umbrellas and folding chairs. Hmm, I have a picnic blanket in the car, but no shade. With our admission of $15, we get a souvenir wine glass good for stomping on the grapes. We did not realize it did not include any wine tastings. Good thing we got some cash.


Well, the actual stomping hasn’t started yet, so we were all hungry and decide to get food. There weren’t as many food vendors as we expected, and it looked like some people brought their own provisions. (Darn, I had a ton of picnic food at home.) The BBQ place didn’t have enough food ready, so we turned to the one other food vendor (there also was an ice cream place); I got a pizza slice, Gigi and Lynn ordered sausages with grilled veggies. We found some seating at the end of a table, but not under any shade. We ate quickly since the festivities were beginning.

 festaparade  festablessing

The “parade” starts, which is a tractor bringing out the grapes with the host dancers sitting up front. Everyone gathers round and cheers them on and they stop in front of the two wooden barrels — one large, one small. Before we begin, the priest gives the Grape Stomp Festa Blessing. And once completed the crowd is invited to grab the buckets of grapes and dump them into the barrels. Once all dumped, the stomping begins.

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Time to get in line. Well, note to self, next time get in line as soon as you get there, because there was a reason people were getting in line prior to the official start — it got long really fast. And once you figure out it will be some time for each group to get in, stomp around a little, take the obligatory pictures; you realize this will be one long afternoon. Well, we drove all this way, we are going to crush some grapes gosh darn it.


We look around and see all the people that must have done this before. They brought their own canopies, chairs, tables, etc. I jealously feel that they all look so comfortable…and cool. We were sweltering already. What the heck, all the wine tasting booths were surrounding us, what shall we try first? But because of the heat, and knowing too much wine will make us loopy, we decide to settle for a glass of some very tasty Sangria. Hey, I’m the driver, so I need to be responsible and take care of my gals.

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Even though it was miserably hot, we did have a great time waiting under the hot sun for almost two hours. Primarily due to, as Lynn said, a “wildly entertaining group of three women.” These women, with Italian heritages, had driven to Julian with their husbands from San Gabriel, a Los Angeles valley suburb. We got to talking with them (what else are you going to do but make new friends) and shared funny and true stories about life, marriage, family, kids, sex, and aging. They talked about their lives, we talked about ours, and we commiserated together — about the weather, what people were taking way too much time stomping in the barrel (that chick in the white tee – you know who you are), and is this stomping thing sanitary?


The ladies very generously shared their beach umbrella with us, all six of us squeezing under our shaded territory, which was very much appreciated. There were the occasional and welcomed cool breezes, and we kept seeing some clouds in the distance and wished for them to hurry our way and provide relief from the sun. Their husbands were sitting relaxed in tree-shaded chairs. One of the event volunteers starting going around and spritzing us with a spray bottle, just like what we would do for the kids when they are playing games on hot days.

festadance  festaband

Yes, we are almost there! Hold on, you mean all those people who paid for the $50 VIP tickets get to cut in line whenever they want? Reminds me of the Disneyland Fast Pass. I am ready to strangle someone since I thought we were next, yet it seems all these VIP ticket holders decide to show up right at our moment! Please hurry up and go back to your white tents and appetizer filled tables. We should have paid the extra, but then we wouldn’t have met Marie, Carmella and Sylvia.


Okay, we are next. Finally. First, we need to soak our feet in a tub of vodka, I assume to sterilize our feet. Well, I don’t know how many people stuck their feet in there, but it doesn’t look very clean itself. I bravely stick my feet in. Oh well, the grape juice collected isn’t for consumption anyway. It’s bottled as a souvenir for next year.

festalegs  festafriends  festafeetgrp

In we go…I slowly climb down the ladder as it seems slippery…I stick my right foot in, then my left…hmm, mushy feeling. Gigi and Lynn get in, we take a few pictures. Then Marie, Carmella and Sylvia get in, their husbands having walked over to watch. More photos. We stomp around, trying to look like we are actually crushing grapes. By the time we get in most of the whole bunches have been crushed, but we find a few in the bottom recesses of the large barrel using our toes. We stomp around a bit, and take more pictures. We want to take our sweet time, heck we waited so long in the first place, but we are also aware that many more are waiting for their turn. Basically, we want to make it worth our while.


Time to get out. As we get out of the barrel, we were glad we experienced it, but ready to go on. Hugs and goodbyes were wholeheartedly given to our new friends, as we go our separate ways, but living through common memories.



The ice cream line was too long, it was still hot, and we weren’t in the mood to shop the vendor booths. So now what? Time to head back down the hill for a stop at the Julian Pie Company in Santa Ysabel. Hey, what else would you expect from me? Of course, as we leave, the rain clouds start to mosey on over and cause a bit of trouble. We get to Santa Ysabel just in time to get out of the pouring rain, sit at the counter and comfortably scarf down apple pie slices with vanilla ice cream, pure deliciousness.


Once fulfilled, we make a quick stop at Dudley’s Bakery, because if you’re driving all this way, you’re going to get some fresh bread and baked goods too. My parents will be happy with the squaw bread and coffee cake rounds. Quite content, we get into our cars for the leisurely drive home…so we thought.


Almost immediately after getting back on the road, our phones start squeaking about the flash flood warnings for the area. And wouldn’t you know it, the clouds opened up on top of us at that very moment, and for the life of me I could not see the roads. That’s what you call a timely app! Being the responsible driver that I am, I decide to pull over and wait it out. It died down about 15 minutes later, but still heavily raining. As we start to leave the area, I carefully try to drive through the roads and mini-rivers of water. At one point it looked like some sort of water tank fell into the road. Where the heck did that come from?


It wasn’t that much further that it was dry as a martini. Was it our imagination? Couldn’t have been, because my car looked clean from the natural car wash. Oh well, it seems none of these adventures ever go smoothly.


Oh, remember the I Love Lucy episode, well Lucy returns to their hotel room all messed up and grape stained, meanwhile Desi had the producer waiting for her. But after seeing her, he informs her the movie isn’t about winemaking because the title for the film was a metaphor. He was actually looking for someone to play the part of a typical American tourist. Therefore, he gives the role to Ethel. Lesson here, bitter grapes isn’t worth your energy.



The annual Grape Stomp Festa, www.julianca.com, is held at the Menghini Winery, 1150 Julian Orchards Road, Julian, CA, http://www.menghiniwinery.com.

Although both Julian Pies and Dudley Bakery items are now found in many local grocery and specialty stores, visit Julian Pie Company locations in Julian and Santa Ysabel, www.julianpie.com and Dudley Bakery in Santa Ysabel, which also has a deli and gift shop, www.dudleysbakery.com. Both can be found at the intersection of Highways 78 and 79 in Santa Ysabel, CA.

I Love Lucy episodes available on cbs.com, Hulu, and Netflix DVD.

Week 38: Overnite Pow Wow

The official festivities of the Barona Pow Wow are over, but I lay here in the middle of the night listening to the true soul and spirit of the Native Americans who have gathered together this past Labor Day weekend. Out of the public eye, we listen to the beating drums while men and women sing in harmony to wordless songs, but telling of a strong and emotional story.




I have always admired the Native American culture. My interest started during my college days when a former boyfriend had family in New Mexico and I went out to visit. I later went on a solo research excursion for my Cultural Anthropology class to the San Ildefonso and Santa Clara Pueblos, located north of Santa Fe. There, I was welcomed to view private collections of galleries, local homes, a high school basketball game, dinner, and introduced as if I was one of their cousins. Those heartfelt moments inspired me to begin collecting black pottery as mementos of time spent with them. I chose black pottery because I liked the look of the black on black designs as it was popularized by Maria Martinez who was from San Ildefonso, and who had learned techniques from the Tafoya family of the Santa Clara Pueblo.


Thus, attending a Pow Wow was on my 50 Weeks list. The Barona Reservation hosts a yearly Pow Wow on Labor Day weekend, and they offer free admission and camping. How welcoming they are to visitors. It was definitely time to visit a Pow Wow.



The day didn’t start off so great…it was actually horrible. As Richard and I begin the trek to the Barona Reservation for the Pow Wow, we first hit construction traffic near my house, which was a big pain in the you know where. Really, construction on a holiday weekend, really? Then as we leave the bank ATM, our exit was blocked by a delivery truck, and no driver seemed to be around. Finally, the truck was moved. Thankfully we are on the freeway headed east. Besides the escalating heat, everything seemed fine now. We get to the pow wow (the baseball fields) and the locate the campsites — basically any spot amongst the eucalyptus trees. We find a nice cozy area with shade and start to unpack and put the tent together. The tent was borrowed from a friend, and as we try to sort out the pieces, we realize the main tent itself was missing. Are you kidding? Now what? Richard decides that we will go north to Ramona, buy a tent and return. Okay. So we head on to Ramona, on some scenic roads that I had never driven on, find a Kmart and buy a tent for $25.


These things happen in threes right, so hopefully that is it. We quickly regain our campsite, and put up the tent. In hindsight, buying a new tent was a better choice, as the borrowed one looked very complicated. Tent in place, we then decide to head on over to the Pow Wow and see what’s going on. First thing we see are all the merchandise vendors; later. We head on over to the food vendors and I get a much needed ice cold lemonade, and Richard inhales an overloaded chili cheese dog. (I’m going to start calling him Hoover.)


We sit under one of the humongous white tents, plopping down in the middle of all the other saved chairs. We can’t tell if the areas are reserved for certain groups, but oh well, I guess we will sit until someone tells us to leave. There is some Gourd Dancing contests going on, primarily with the younger age groups. We notice there are two groups of drummers, the center drum circle which look to be elder types and experienced, and the outer drum circle, which seemed younger and more energetic.


But we are still so hot and miserable from what transpired earlier, I contact my friend Rosey, who coincidentally is staying at the Barona Resort down the road. We leave the Pow Wow to meet her, and as soon as we walk into the Casino, greeters hand us lemonade, such a nice touch. I like this place already. Rosey finds us, gives us a quick tour and hands us a keycard for the pool area. We cool down in the pool, and relax on the shaded chaise loungers. And to top it off, she gives us two buffet vouchers. Rosey, you are a lifesaver!


Once refreshed at the pool, and bellies filled, it was time to return to the Pow Wow for the main events. Another friend, Lisa-Marie, had decided to go to the Pow Wow with her husband Jimmy and their sons. We meet them in the grandstands just in time for more Gourd Dancing and the Grand Entry. It’s really quite an amazing sight. Men, women and children enter the center one by one dressed in full finery, while the drums continue to be played. Some in feathers, other with metal decorations. Some in buckskin, others in soft cottons. The colorful parade continues with one person after another entering, creating a spiral formation. The younger males with the double feathered regalia are the ones doing the fancy dancing, twisting, turning, leaping — what energy they have and they keep going and going like Energizer bunnies.

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Eventually a break is taken for the Pow Wow blessing, honoring those who have traveled far and near, and keeping in mind those who have served our country and who are still serving our country. For a group of people whose lands were taken over through bloody force, Native Americans are very patriotic and feel a strong connection to our country. Various dignitaries are introduced and more drumming and dancing. It was also pointed out to us that the Barona tribal chairman was sitting there amongst the crowd in a black shirt and jeans, just one of the guys.

powwow16  powwowview

We decide to hit the vendors and check out the goods. Lots of interesting things: thin-skinned drums, hand carved wooden flutes, animal skins, rugs, ponchos, tons of jewelry, pottery, dream catchers. My favorite booth was the one from The Indian Store of Vista which housed all sorts of things like the skins, books, costume items, medicinal herbs, everything.

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After looking at every single booth, listening to and watching more drumming and dancing (I do wish they had some sort of official program, because I couldn’t understand a word being said through their speaker system), we decide to turn in. From the campsite, we can hear the Pow Wow continuing, but little did we know that our true adventure would be experienced right in the privacy of our tent. (Oh, I know you reader #9, get your mind out of the gutter!)

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Many Pow Wow participants are staying overnight in the campgrounds and have gathered together out of the public eye to reconnect with friends and family. They come to Barona year after year, continuing the tradition of the Pow Wow. And like most cultures, any gathering is a good reason to celebrate. (My own Filipino culture loves to honor every saint with a fiesta.) Well, those that hitched up their tents in the campsite came to party!


Just when it seemed that it was silent enough where I could hear the stars twinkle, the drumming begins. Then the singers join. Are you kidding me? Aren’t they tired? The Pow Wow has been going all day, and festivities start again the next afternoon. Don’t they know we are trying to sleep in here? Ugh…hmm…the music is actually…quite beautiful.


The drumming, the singing, the passion. You can hear it in their voices. The soul of the men and the heart of the women singing of vocables (no actual words) combine to provide those around with a glimpse into the rawness of their spirit.


I close my eyes and dreamily listen. I dare not walk outside to physically intrude, but I am trespassing on their impromptu private moments. I imagine them all gathered around the in-ground fire pit we had seen dug up earlier in the night, with boiling pots steaming on top of a metal grill. One by one the camp dwellers walk on over, each adding their individual vocal talent to the operatic menu. The drumming, the singing, the passion continues, and I admit, I don’t want them to stop. But after a final crescendo, they do stop…for a moment.


The laughter begins. Okay, yes they were probably drinking some adult beverages, but these type of gatherings are meant for such activities. Again, I felt somewhat of an intruder, listening in on their conversations. I dared not leave the tent, but rather I observe with my ears. I learn to enjoy the sing song laughter of the women after a good joke, the choruses of their ayes. And boy did we pick the location alright, as we can hear several camp parties forming all around us. I did have to get up and pee, and yes indeed, I see that all around us were groups standing, sitting here and there, enjoying the company of friends new and old. Secrets were shared, and egos were boastful. I wonder if they knew someone was listening in on their private moments. I’m not a gossip columnist, really.


Before you know it, someone starts singing, and again, one by one others walk over and join in, like a flash mob. The drumming, the singing, the passion continues all night…and into the morning…5:00 am to be exact.


Yes, it did bother me at first, but I soon felt privileged to experience this true view of the people of the Pow Wow. Pow Wows are meant for Native Americans to gather, and the campsite lets them do just that, away from the public eye of those that want to experience culture for the a couple hours. To capture the depth of another culture is truly a gift, and I felt we were given a gift that night. And it wasn’t only me, Richard felt the same way commenting that they are the “happiest people I’ve ever run into” and that “everyone needs to go to a Pow Wow just to forget about our materialistic society.” Ditto.


The impromptu gathering brought out their naked souls and gave them all true joy. Hearing and feeling their emotions made the bad start to our trip worth it. I would gladly camp amongst the Native Americans again, next time I will crawl out of our tent and try to sing along…wait, with my voice, drumming may be more neighborly.




Barona Indian Reservation is located outside of Lakeside. The Pow Wow is usually held over Labor Day weekend, and 2015 will mark the 45th annual celebration. www.barona-nsn.gov


The reservation also has a museum that provides insights into Barona’s history and the Kumeyaay-San Diegueno culture. www.baronamuseum.org


The Barona Resort and Casino is an excellent place to stay for both an adult getaway or for family excursions. Besides the casino, there is a pool, day spa, golf course, and lots of dining options. Make sure to join Club Barona for discounts and free offers. www.barona.com
For more info about Pow Wows throughout the United States, go to www.powwows.com.