Peter Mayle about pétanque
Enjoy these few excerpts from his
bestseller "A Year in Provence".
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
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
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.
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