At the campground end of Cannobio's lungolago, close to the lido, is a 1€ store, selling plastic proto-refuse for not very much (until you add it all up). In summer, the outdoor display flaunts beach balls, blow-up swimming rings, tiddler-nets and plastic-straw sunhats. In winter it's Christmas decorations. Between seasons there are huge quantities of tupperware-style plastic boxes, but none in the right size. The 1€ store is much-loved by desperate week-of-rain camping-holiday mothers eager to buy plastic train sets, beading sets, sinister-looking yellow velvet giraffes or anything, anything at all their child might desire. Just for a few minutes of holiday (dammit!). AJ (age 3) likes the look of the 1€ store, although he's never been inside. I know that once he does the sky will fall in, and the house will forever be cluttered with unidentifiable bits of coloured plastic.
But perhaps after last Tuesday, AJ won't be so keen to loiter outside the 1€ shop. For next door but one, just past the fabbro (a working smithy worthy of the notice of Sebastiao Salgado
The appointment was prompted by a seemingly harmless knock that turned one of AJ's beautifully white front teeth a nasty my-mother-feeds-me-too-much-chocolate grey. Part of my strategy for the day was to announce the forthcoming visit to AJ's scuola materna teacher in the hope that she might pick up the baton and do some pre-selling of the whole dentist idea during class. But as the surrounding mothers dutifully ooh'd and aah'd (you'll have to think the Italian accents) for AJ's benefit, out of my bag fell two packets of imported liquorice allsorts. A momentary silence followed, laden with unspoken accusations of child-abuse-by-bon-bon and a couple of sidelong squints at the grey patch in AJ's delighted smile. I wouldn't be getting any sympathy there, then.
At 1pm, while picking him up from kindergarten, I taught him the word ice-cream in Italian and promised him whatever flavour he desired after Dr S.
At 3:15pm, after two hours of trailing the children round town in preference to dragging them up the hill and then almost immediately down again, we passed, exhausted, through Dr S's grey metal security doors and made our way up his gently sweeping marble staircase. And into an office that was more like a rather grand apartment than a dentist's office, complete with gilded hat stand, brocade sofas, Turkish runners and, at the far end, a piano. I've never seen a piano in a dentist's office before...and I wondered what dentistry-themed music might be played on it after hours (I could only come up with a half-remembered medley from Little Shop of Horrors).
We got off to a fairly bad start. I left the dotties alone for a moment, and they started exploring while I was filling in the forms. The background music was the sound of the dentist’s drill on turbo. A woman’s voice suddenly rang out. An exclamation of pain in fairly colourful Italian. I won't repeat it. I looked around for the children and they were standing close together staring aghast into one of the ‘salons’ where a well-heeled, red-faced older woman was in the chair, still streaming invective. B was reaching, rather touchingly, for the security of her big brother's hand. I quickly chivvied them away (“It’s rude to stare, darling…”) and they proceeded to trash the organised-by-language magazine collection in the waiting area in what I suspected to be frenzied displacement activity.
Finally, the German Dr S. arrived in the waiting room, streaming Italian instructions to his assistant through his pipe, which was gripped firmly between his teeth, as always (in the street, in the car, while gardening, while berating fly-parkers outside his home). He greeted AJ, one trilingual to another, and invited him into his lair. AJ shook his hand, but wouldn't look at him...
I left B to a copy of Hello! magazine, murmuring to herself about Angelina Jolie’s twins, and carried – with difficulty - a suddenly squirmy AJ to the chair. I sat down with him on my lap, and slowly laid back hoping to hold him in place and make him feel secure at the same time.
No, no, NEIN!
He revolved like a croc with a carcass so that his face was buried in my neck, and he started screaming (whether it was English, Italian or German, I didn't at that point understand). I tried to turn him back, pouring lovely words into his ear like ‘gelato’ and ‘pizza’, and even (God-help-me) ‘liquorice allsorts’, but he was too far gone. The dental nurse looked at me and I looked at her, hoping for inspiration or perhaps absolution, but she had no fresh input for me. B drifted in, no doubt curious as to why AJ was screaming this time. She thought it might be fun to jump on top of Mama too.
After about a minute of screaming, Dr S., unveiled his own patented I’ve-had-five-children-under-six strategy for dealing with rebellious three-year-olds. A low rumble was first heard, followed by a noise that resembled pawing of the ground, and then Dr S. bellowed something at AJ in German (a supremely useful language for bellowing). The little one was so shocked by the sheer noise that he stopped trying to strangle me and looked round. Seizing the moment, I manhandled him into a supine position and wrapped my legs and arms around his. He was done-for.
Two minutes later, B was happily lying in the spotlight while AJ sat on his new friend’s lap, wielding the dental mirror and doing a fairly decent job of counting his sister’s teeth (in three languages).
The verdict? A dead nerve. Nothing to be done. Hopefully the second tooth won’t be affected.
The moral? When good old-fashioned Italian-style bribery and corruption with gelato doesn't do the trick, a spot of Teutonic noise-pollution just might.
The afterword? AJ got his gelato (strawberry), and B got one too (chocolate, all over her face, her hands, and down her front, to the delight of a quickly-assembled crowd of onlookers). A promise is a promise, after all. And he now knows how to say ‘ice-cream’ in Italian and ‘open wide’ in German
As for the 1€ store, I’ll let you know next time the weather’s good enough for the lido - but whether he's interested or not, he's still not going in.
Copyright © Louise Bostock 2007, 2008. All rights reserved. Please ask first.