July 8, 2007, Maussane: At first, it felt like a tickle. On my left eye. And then, like a bolt of lightning was shooting through my eyeball and straight into my brain. Followed by another bolt of lightning. And another.
“What the hell?”
I swiped at my sunglasses, knocking them off my face and onto the side of the road. Something, some sort of large, black insect flew away from my eye. I swerved and almost lost my balance, but quickly steadied myself. My left eye really, really hurt. It was throbbing. And the pain kept getting worse and began radiating in ever-expanding circles until it encompassed my entire head.
“First things first,” I told myself. “Find your sunglasses.” They were prescription sunglasses, the only pair I had with me, and I kind of needed them to find my way back to Maussane, the town in Provence, near Arles, where we were staying. I walked back and forth, along the side of the road where I thought they may have landed, squinting to improve my vision like George did in that episode of Seinfeld. You know the one.
Couldn’t find them. Damn! I really need them. To see. How am I going to get a new pair of prescription sunglasses over here? Maybe I can buy those flip-up and flip-down sunglass things you put over your regular glasses. Do they even work right?
And then, a glint of sunlight caught the attention of my one good eye. It was my sunglasses. Thank goodness. I could see again. The searing pain in my eye had subsided and pretty much gone away by this time, so I got back on my bike. And rode back to our hotel in Maussane, where Susan was waiting for me. By the pool. Yep, a swimming pool!
“How was your ride,” Susan said, and then noticed my eye. I think she may have shrieked. Or gasped. She does that when she’s startled.
“What? What?” I said.
“Your eye, what happened to your eye? It’s all black-and-blue. Like you got punched.”
I told her what happened.
“What was it?” she asked.
“I have no idea. Something big and black and very angry.”
Susan asked the person at the hotel desk for some glacon (ice). Here’s the thing: Ice seems to be a very rare and valuable commodity in France. There are no such things as ice machines at hotels here. At cafes, you get like two small cubes with your drink. And so, the guy at the desk grudgingly gave Susan a couple cubes. I iced my eye, took a couple Ibuprofen, and a nap. When I woke up, an hour or so later, my eye was swollen shut and the entire left side of my face was puffed up and swollen. Whatever the hell that was got me really good. Or really bad. I looked like Rocky at the end of the fight in the first and best Rocky. “Cut me Mickey, cut me.”
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It was dinner time, and all the face swelling had made me very hungry. We walked down the street, in search of a restaurant, and people stared. I was hideous. Little children ran.
We entered a restaurant, and the hostess woman stared at me in horror. She spoke a little English, and asked what had happened to me and my face. I told her that some sort of grand (large) and noir (black) insect had bitten me while I was out cycling earlier in the day.
“Geupe, geupe, geupe,” she said. We later looked it up … and geupe is French for wasp.
And then, the very-nice lady brought me some ice. Four semi-large cubes!
From Susan’s journal: “Steve’s eye looks better today, but not anywhere near all better. Still swollen, especially in the corner. I am worried about his tear duct clogging. I wonder if he had a fever yesterday.”
A week later … another geupe attack! This time, the bugger got me in the leg, the upper and inside of my left thigh. Here’s what I wrote in my journal: “My leg swelled up like a log and is hot to the touch. And a 5-inch in diameter swelling that feels very stiff, like a pulled muscle. Amazing how something so small can cause so much damage.”