Peter Mayle about pétanque

Enjoy these few excerpts from his bestseller "A Year in Provence".

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Long before, during a holiday, we had bought our first set of boules after watching old men in Rousillon spend an enjoyable argumentative afternoon on the village court below the post office.

We had taken our boules back to England, but it is not a game that suits the damp, and they gathered cobwebs in a barn. They had been almost the first things we unpacked when we came to live in Provence. Smooth and tactile, they fitted into the palm of the hand, heavy, dense, gleaming spheres of steel that made a satisfying chock when tapped together.        
         We studied the techniques of the professionals who played every day next to the church at Bonnieux - men who could drop a boule on your toe from twenty feet away - and came home to practice what we had seen. The true aces, we noticed, bent their knees in a crouch and held the boules with the fingers curled around and the palm facing downward, so that when the boule was thrown, friction from the fingers provided backspin. And there were the lesser elements of style - the grunts and encouragements that helped every throw on its way, and the shrugs and muttered oaths when it landed short or long. We soon became experts in everything except accuracy.
          We were playing on our own court that evening, and the game was therefore subject to Lubéron Rules:
          1. Anyone playing without a drink is disqualified.
          2. Incentive cheating is permitted.
          3. Disputes concerning the distance from the cochonnet are mandatory. Nobody's word is final.
          4. Play stops when darkness falls unless there is no clear winner, in which case blind man's boules                 are played until there is a torchlight decision or the cochonnet is lost.
          We had gone to some trouble to construct a court with deceptive slopes and shallow hollows to baffle visitors, and had roughened the playing surface so that our luck would have a sporting chance against superior skill. We were quitly confident, and I had the added advantage of being in charge of the pastis; any signs of consistent accuracy from the visiting team would be countered by bigger drinks, and I knew from personal experience what big drinks did to one's aim.
          Intrigue and gamesmanship make up for the lack of athletic drama, and the players that evening behaved abominably. Boules were moved by stealth, with accidental nudges of the foot. Players poised to throw were distracted by comments on their stance, offers for more pastis, accusations of stepping over the throwing line, warnings of dogs crossing the court, sightings of imaginary grass snakes, and conflicting bad advice from every side.

© 1989 by Peter Mayle