“The true voyage of discovery lies not in seeing new things, but in seeing the world with new eyes.” -- Proust
I used this quote in my blog once before as a commentary on the philosophy of flaneur. Both of its clauses are viciously ironic now. Flaneur entails new experiences, some of which must be better than others. An eye infection helps establish the low end of the spectrum. Actually, both eyes are infected, and both have both conjunctivitis (when the evil little bacteria only inhabit the conjunctiva, or outer layer of the cornea), and keratitis, the more serious condition when they penetrate inner layers of the cornea.
My eyes had been bugging me for a few weeks. The symptoms were quite easy for me to diagnose, since I had them dozens of times: dirty or scratched contact lenses. So I went to a local optometrist and ordered new lenses, and figured I would tough it out until then. I went through 3 bottles of eyedrops while my eyes patiently screamed at me that something was really wrong. Yes, I hear you, I told them, and I am working on it. The new lenses should be here soon. Quit yer bitching. I thought 25 years of contact lens wearing would leave my eyelids quite well calloused. This is nothing new. I’m a doctor. Shut up and let me work. So my eyes were stye-mied by my less insightful brain.
I finally worked out that something else was wrong Monday night, when my eyes decided to up the ante by itching and hurting enough that I couldn’t sleep a wink. OK, I said. We’ll see the doctor tomorrow morning, Lemme sleep! But no, they kept on whining loudly all night, perhaps justifiably convinced that I earned it. I left my apartment without any vision correction, since I figured out that contact lenses would be unweyes. I have no glasses. I can’t wear them because they bend light so much they give me a headache.
On opening the door from my apartment complex, I quickly learned another symptom of eye infections: photosensitivity. Outside hit me like a nuke. I literally fell over backward, lay cursing the powers that be for a good 2 minutes, then made it up the stairs (very slowly) to get 2 pair of sunglasses. This is a good thing about being Californian; necessary or not, you always have shades nearby. I went back outside, looking straight down with my hand shielding my eyes in a bizarre salute to the sidewalk, and only then realized it was a cloudy day.
I didn’t know quite how to get to my optometrist without incident. My vision is -8 myopia and 4.5 astigmatism, which is medical speak for fucking blind. If you don’t know your prescription, trust me, mine is worse. I am, in fact, legally blind in the US without correction. And so it seemed wandering around Graz. I came to an intersection and fortunately remembered there was a curb there, cuz I would otherwise have pitched forward into oncoming traffic. So I stood there, wondering how I could tell it was safe to cross. I couldn’t see a red blur that might turn in to a green blur. I could simply wait a minute and make a break for it. I could get a taxi, except that requires a working visual system. I figured I would wait and ask a pedestrian as soon as one came close enough to be identifiable as such. Then I suddenly heard the familiar beep boop from across the street that we normally ignore. Hey, that’s really thoughtful, I thought.
My optometrist took one look at me and said, “Oh my God.” Good way to set the tone. He told me I must immediately go to a medical doctor, which he was not. Well, I said, you know how blind I am right now, and my German is as bad as it was when I was here 2 weeks ago. Do you know anyone who can see me without an appointment? He called around and recommended someone nearby. By now, I had become a minor celebrity, with all the staff checking out my eyes like they were museum pieces, or shone as brightly as Juliet’s in the oh so evocative balcony scene:
Her eye discourses; I will answer it.
I am too bold; 'tis not to me she speaks.
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
If Shakespeare were female, she would be the sexiest woman in history. Probably best that he isn’t. He is too old for me. I’d settle for Candace Bushnell. Wish I could write like that. And fuck like that. Tell you what, just give me the latter, and we'll call it even.
I used to memorize Shakespeare passages, partly to improve my English, partly to avoid being outshone by other intellectual snobs, and partly because I figured it would be useful to bust out on some modern genius Juliet sometime. The Bard disappointed me on the last one, which is why I now know Shylock’s less loving passages much better. Try replacing the word “Jew” with “nerd” in his famous “shall we not revenge” speech. It works eerily well. I did spontaneously drop the tale of Luna and the grasshopper on an unsuspecting and very sexy Italian scientist, and when a woman of that nationality calls an American romantic, you must have done something right. That will hopefully be a topic for a happier blog entry. I have been in better moods.
My optometrist told me where to go. I jokingly asked him for a dog or something. He kindly said he would get his assistant to guide me. Thanks, I said. While he got her, I tried to entertain the staff, who remained quite intrigued with me. Look at this, I asked for a dog, and I get a human. Now that’s service! I bet she speaks better German than me. Or even a dog! I think they smiled, or maybe they scowled, or their faces turned into Austrian pumpkins. Absolutely no idea. The assistant showed up and I followed her gratefully, wondering the whole time whether she was cute, young, old, had a wedding ring, etc. She actually led me to the wrong place, but it’s the thought that counts. I eventually made it to the eye doctor, who said it was quite serious. He asked why I did not seek treatment earlier, and I explained that I thought it was a bad contact lens. He shook his head. I think. Or maybe he was eating, or having a seizure, or nodding, or rocking to some music. He gave me a prescription for eyedrops and eye salve, which I got from the nearby pharmacy with surprisingly little trouble. These have been helping a lot. But then the real fun began. For the last 3 days, I have been limited to my natural vision. It is odd that these “new eyes” are in fact the ones I had all along, but never used without correction. I am on sick leave from work, which is torture for an ambitious workaholic megalomaniac. Especially right after the successful Brussels negotiation, and scheming brilliant new studies with Clemens that we want to launch ASAP. But, not much I can do. I cannot read, and cannot really type that well – this will not be my finest blog entry. I will proofread it as much as I can, given that reading requires putting my face within a few inches of a monitor, close enough to produce double vision, so I have to close one eye. I am typing from motor memory, augmented by the wondrous spelling correction feature in Word.
It is a whole new world. Curbs and cobblestones streets and potholes have sprained ankle written all over them. Well, not literally, but if they did, I wouldn’t know. Walking is a series of controlled falls, as I learned in judo class. Then, the goal was to teach you when to foot sweep people (go for their forward foot just before it hits the ground, since they are off balance and falling). But it also comes in handy when you cannot see the ground. So I have been walking around quite ridiculously sometimes, but this is the liberating part – you have no idea who is staring at you, so you don’t care. Ignorance is bliss. Like the famous experiment with the executive monkey and passive monkey, stress is greatly reduced when you can't do anything about its causes.
I recalled an exchange about 12 years ago on that very topic. I was eating dinner with some people from my dojo, as we often did after throwing each other around for 2 hours. I asked my sensei if he walked like that all the time, and was thus immune to foot sweeps or any kind of tripping. No, he answered. We all know a guy who walks like that all the time. Everyone says he walks like a monkey. Yes, but you learned something, right? Some knowledge transferred to your everyday life? No, he said. Aw, come on, sensei! You mean I could foot sweep you right now? No, he said. See, I replied. Why not? You must be doing something different. No, he replied. We’re sitting down.
So, for 3 days now, I have been monkey walking along around Graz. Except it probably looks better when monkeys do it. Plus, every time I see an apparent color change in the ground, I stop and feel it out with my foot, which saved me from pitching off a few curbs, but also leaves me spending a lot of time feeling out sewer covers, discarded papers, and filled-in potholes. It rained today, adding puddles to the list of slightly darker things on the ground. I discovered a few the fun way, and look forward to going home and wearing dry socks. I remember where buses and streetcars stop, but the schedules may as well be random. Some of the stops have digital displays with the number of minutes remaining, and they are only a few feet from my eyes, but that is still too much. Twice, friendly passersby offered to help. The squinting at a nearby display might be one cue that I cannot see so well, and the double sunglasses another. One pair of obstreperous teens mocked me, which I suppose I should expect. Not much I can do about it unless one makes contact with me, in which case they might learn that, while reading displays or chasing them both require good vision, arm bars and hip throws and chokeholds do not.
By far the scariest part of it all is not curbs, traffic, or taunting punks, but dogs. Dogs are everywhere in Austria, like Germany. Normally, you can see dogs from far away, and easily read their affect. Not anymore. Dogs are great blurs that might be snarling or crouched in preparation for a pounce. Whenever a dog barks, I naturally foveate, like anyone, but to no avail. I stare right at them, since I can still localize sound with my unimpaired coincidence detectors in my medial superior olive, but have no idea why they are barking or even where they’re looking. I still have a scar on my left leg from the last and only time I trusted an unidentified barking dog. That was 25 years ago. Now, I am returned to the world of blind faith.
But, the end is in sight. Figuratively, at least. I have another appointment to see (or at least hear) the eye doctor early tomorrow morning. I’ll have to take the early streetcar, aka the red eye. The doctor foresaw that I should be able to wear contacts again within a week if my eyes improve, and it looks like they have. The eyedrops are indeed c-lensing away the nasty little bacteria. I only wish they would all die in the blink of an eye, instead of dilater. I really should be crucifeyed on two rods for lashing my few loyal blog pupils with such coney puns. I envision a lot of even cornea puns if I don’t put a lid on it.