27 February 2013

For What This Tooth Has Munched, May I Be Truly Thankful

A sense of foreboding, sadness, apprehension.  Shortly I will be leaving to go to the dentist for the extraction of a molar from my lower left jaw.  I’ve already managed to put off the procedure once, but it is the day of reckoning and I must say farewell to a trusted friend.

This is not just any molar, but the important one in the middle, the one that’s led the way through family feasts, cream teas, dîners à deux, the explorations of olives, kumquats and pomegranates. 

I’m not sure the tooth fairy will be able to stump up adequate recompense.  If the molar is stuffed under my pillow tonight, I will expect a thick wodge of notes tomorrow morning – enough for Eurostar to Paris, or robust domestic appliance, or delicately carved mandolin. 

Not that I wish for the remains of the tooth to be placed ceremoniously into my hands in any case, even if it were to be extracted in one neat piece.  It might  engender the kind of horror I frequently feel at the dentist.  In fact, rule three on my random and varied list of Ten Things to Keep You (Sort Of) Sane Throughout Life concerns being in the dentist’s chair:
3. While having a tooth filled, never, ever, allow your tongue to stray over the area your dentist has just drilled out.

Bits of ex-molar in my palm may just be a one souvenir too many.

But the imminent loss of my tooth, and the acute reluctance to give it up remind me that today there are people who will be facing so much more: surgery to surrender parts of their body for life-saving reasons.  For once, there is just a glimpse, a smidgeon, a flash of humble kinship.

22 February 2013

Dog Tales

(from a Spanish notebook)

There is an enormous pile of dog poo outside my front door. 

Not my front door in England, but the door of the little casita I’ve rented for a week in Orgiva in the Alpujarras in southern Spain.

As I eyeball it, the pile in question seems to be actually sitting on my next-door neighbour’s territory, that is if any of us are allowed to claim jurisdiction of the street in the first place.  But in our narrow cul-de-sac, my door is without question the closest door to the deposits of a very large dog – or a smaller one who has been saving up all week. 

As the nearest resident to the unmissable feature on the pavement that now needs to be manoeuvred around, it must be my responsibility to commence emergency removal procedures.  But I don’t possess a trowel, much less a spade, nor have I the stomach to use hands and a (jumbo) plastic bag.

Is anyone watching my hesitation?  I look nervously around at all the windows.  But there again, in this town generally there appears to be a laissez-faire attitude not just to the passings of dogs, but their passage as well.  They run freely through the streets, without identifying collars, sometimes alone or in pairs, sometimes following their owners, or even sitting obediently at cafes.  So far, they have been gentle and unmenacing.  A majority of them spend their entire lives outside, and start up a yowling echoing chorus at intervals during the night. 

There is a different way with dogs here.  I can’t help thinking about the black sports bag in the cafe of the bus station in Malaga yesterday.  Plonked on the chair beside a woman in a green wool coat, it independently started up a routine of quiverings and tremblings.  It lolled around on the seat. It lurched dangerously close to the edge.  A tidbit was fed through its zip.  Then another.   Its interior concealed the small white curly-haired dog I’d seen in the woman’s arms half an hour before.  The pooch was packed, ready for transportation.

And I remember the words of a bar owner in another Spanish town that I visited last autumn.  “Carolina is bad, very bad,” he had said.  Carolina was tiny, adorable, and chained outside to the leg of a bar-football table.  “Loli, her mother, is very good.  She doesn't chase cars like Carolina does.  But Carolina, you are very bad.”  And he frowned and wagged his finger at her.  Loli and Carolina were Chihuahuas, Carolina a puppy of 56 days old.

Back in Orgiva, later in the day, I meet a charming elderly neighbour who lives opposite me.  She tells me she is pleased I am staying in the little house – it once belonged to her family.  We exchange more pleasantries and then it is time to seize the moment.  I point to the offending heap only a metre and a half from where we are standing, the huge brown blot in the cul-de-sac of light-coloured stone and whitewashed houses.  I ask her what I can do.  She shrugs her shoulders, and says that the street will be cleaned.  Or the rain will wash it away. 

Or at least, I think that’s what she says.

I’m off the hook.  And I’m hoping for a short but well-aimed shower during the night.