Bastille Day Bees

I think it's safe to say that I had a pretty unusual Bastille Day. I don't know how the French typically spend their national holiday, but I'm willing to bet that wine, cheese, and relaxation are involved. I, however, spent my time staring at a particularly large honeybee perched on the tip of my nose.

In a country where relaxation almost seems to be a constitutional right, I was a little surprised when 49-year-old beekeeper Vincent Bellande welcomed me graciously into his home on Bastille Day, excited to discuss his trade.

It is obvious to any visitor to Bellande's home that he is a beekeeper and a nature lover. Aside from the small wooden deck at the back of his house, the land surrounding his mountainside home is untouched, except for a few small hives scattered around the yard.

After discussing at length Bellande's organic approach to beekeeping, we finally settled down to a refreshing outdoor lunch of fresh bread and cool salad. I couldn't help but notice, as we relaxed on the deck, that one of Bellande's beehives sat about four feet behind me, bees buzzing in and out as they pleased.

Bellande assured us that his bees are not aggressive—he even said that he rarely wears protective gear when working with the hives because he knows his bees so well—and I relaxed, assuming that if I didn't bother the bees, they wouldn't bother me. By the end of our two-hour lunch I had almost forgotten that the beehive was right behind me. Almost.

My reminder arrived in the form of an ominous buzzing in my ear—followed by the tickling sensation of six tiny insect legs alighting on my nose. "Don't move," Bellande said.

Too late.

As I pulled the surprisingly long stinger out of the tip of my nose, eyes watering, my lunch mates erupted, asking me repeatedly if I was all right, if I was allergic, if I needed to go to a doctor.

But Bellande remained calm, hurrying into the house and returning with a small pouch full of bee-sting remedies. First he handed me a small bottle of potently scented liquid, which I dabbed onto my nose, making it smart more than ever. Then he gave me three little beads, telling me to let them melt in my mouth. This is the only time I have ever taken unidentified pills from someone, and I'm glad I did—by the end of the day, my nose was slightly pink and just a little bit swollen, but it probably would have been roughly the size of a watermelon without his help.

However, despite the pain and chaos caused by my bout with the bee, I wouldn't trade my Bastille Day experience for anyone else's. I got to learn about a fascinating subject, and, more importantly, I got to wear a beekeeper's veil for the rest of my visit.


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About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.