The Great Guepe Attack

At first it felt like a tickle. On my eye.

And then it felt like a bolt of lightning shooting through my right eyeball and into deep my brain. Followed by another bolt of even more powerful lightning. Followed by lots of cursing.

The mirror image of my swollen-up face


I swiped at my sunglasses, knocking them off my face and onto the road. Something, some sort of large, black insect flew away. I swerved and almost lost my balance, but kept pedaling. And then stopped.

It hurt. Like holy bloody hell. And seemed to get worse, as the pain radiated in ever-expanding circles until it filled my entire head.

This happened on July 8, 2007. We were in Maussane-les-Alpilles (in Provence, a little east of Arles).

First things first, I told myself. I have to find my sunglasses, as they’re prescription sunglasses. And I can’t really see without them. And I need to see in order to cycle my way back to Maussane. Walked back and forth, along the road, where I thought they may have landed, squinting like George in that episode of Seinfeld where he did all the squinting.

Couldn’t find them. Damn. What do I do now? Kind of need them to see. And my regular glasses are back at the hotel. Then I saw a flash of something reflecting in the sun. Under some weeds.


It was my sunglasses. I can see again. Although my left eye seemed to be pulsating.

Made my way back to the hotel, where Susan was waiting by the pool.

“What … how did you … what the … does it hurt?” she said, kind of startled. And worried. Seems like my eye was already pretty much swollen shut.

I told her what happened.

“What was it?”

“I have no idea.”

Susan got some glacon (ice) from the guy at the hotel, which (especially back then) was kind of a big deal. Glacon seems to be a rare and precious commodity in France. And the hotter it is, and this was a pretty hot day, the more rare and precious it becomes.

Iced down my eye, took a few Ibuprofen and Benadryl (Susan’s a nurse and brings lots of meds on our bike trips), and a nap. Awoke and my eye was pretty much swollen shut and the entire right side of my face was all bloated up … and angry.

It was 8 p.m. and I was hungry.

Hey, what are you looking at?


We walked down the street … and people stared. I was hideous. Children ran.

Walked into a restaurant and the woman at the front stared in horror. She didn’t speak much English, we didn’t speak much French, but we were able to explain to her that some sort of large (grande), black (noir) insect (insect?) had stung the hell out of my face.

“Guepe, guepe, guepe,” she said, repeating the French word for wasp over and over.

And then, the kind woman brought me some ice.

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