A dozen years ago, we introduced henna tattoos to Los Angeles, and the news spread as quickly as the insatiable desire for real tattoos. After all these years, I can say without fear that people still love henna and its beautiful, organic reddish brown color on the skin. But they never stopped asking us for a temporary tattoo that looks like a real tattoo; so we kept looking for a way to deliver the goods in a safe and natural way. And then we heard about the jagua fruit, which grows in the Amazon. It was supposed to be an edible fruit, full of medicinal properties, plus the ability to stain the skin blue/black — just like a real tattoo — and then disappear completely in 10-14 days.
It wasn’t easy, but after much searching and investigating, and numerous emails and telephone calls to friends of friends, someone finally put us in contact with a guy living in Peru, who had had dealings with a number of indigenous tribes living in the jungle. A couple of months and multiple in-depth conversations later, we decided to dispatch Pascal Giacomini, my artist husband and partner, on a three-week trip to one of the remote regions where Jagua grows.
Why didn’t you go too?
I’m sure you’re thinking this, right? No? Well, that’s what all my friends wanted to know. Are you going too?
Um, no thanks.
This journey reminded me of how our Moroccan affair began with the family of farmers who supply us with our fabulous henna. Pascal was the one who made the initial trip out to the remote and rigorous desert terrain where, before his arrival, the family had only once before in their lives been visited by a foreigner — and she was a scientist on research assignment for a book. I did eventually visit the family, and enjoyed myself tremendously (the stopover included an unforgettable traditional henna session administered by the loving matriarch, and we were welcomed like royalty!). Although I was thankful for the first-hand experience, and have been feeling the call to return, it’s not the kind of trip I want to repeat too often. It took a full day’s drive through scarily deserted country to get there (Please, don’t let the car die out here, I kept thinking). The conditions are very, very harsh, with unbearably dry, gusty winds that made it difficult to see and breathe. There was no running water, electricity or even a latrine — going to the bathroom consisted of digging a hole in the sand — and even though they pleaded with us to stay longer, after two days I worried that every scrap of food we ate was one less morsel they would have for themselves (since we were their guests, there was no way they would take money from us for food). Pascal’s jungle adventure sounded like much the same, only humid. Oh, boy!
In my book, Sex, Cheese and French Fries, which takes a humorous look at the challenges of a cross-cultural marriage between an American woman (me) and a French husband (Pascal), there is one chapter titled “I married Indiana Jones” — and I’m not kidding. Pascal is perfectly suited for this kind of trip. He thrives on exploring undiscovered territory; is exactly the kind of guy you’d want to be stuck with on a desert island because he’d figure out how to survive; and he’s got a navigation system built into his genes. Me? To find my way home, my instinct is to line the road behind me with bread crumbs, inevitably eaten by vultures that prey on idiots who don’t know how to read a compass. This trip entailed flying into Lima, Peru, taking another flight to a small town, then another flight to an even smaller village, and from there, taking an eight-hour canoe ride to the tribal village in question. I thought my husband should go first, tell me all about it upon his return, and went shopping for a hat and whip instead.
Pascal’s trip established the groundwork for what we hope will be a replica of the mutually beneficial relationship and friendship we enjoy with our Moroccan farmers — a straightforward business transaction between a manufacturer and supplier that grew into so much more! — only this time, with the Indians who harvest the jagua fruit for us in the Amazon jungle.
While he was away, I encouraged Pascal to record his impressions and observations in a journal, and he agreed to do it.
To be continued….