Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pétanque


Le Monde reports some cheering news this morning: the popularity of pétanque seems to be on the rise. Although Paris Plages had a mediocre summer owing to the bad weather, the number of boules players was up sharply, from 27,000 in 2006 to 37,000 this year. And the game seems to be in favor among bobos in the gentrifying quarters of Paris--à la mode, in other words, and not confined to an aging clientèle in the sunny south.

I wouldn't have guessed this. I'm not very good at pétanque myself, but I am an aficionado of the sport as practiced in dusty parks and squares around France. I like the rituals, the gestures, the bravado, the myriad forms of male sociability, the accompanying language games, the quality of the light filtering through the leaves of oaks and chestnut trees, the sheer skill often displayed, the postgame conversations in the nearby café, the dilation of time that seems to occur wherever the game is played. There is an immemorial quality to it all. So I was surprised to learn that pétanque was not invented until 1907, in La Ciotat, by Jules Hughes. Of course it derives from bowling games that are indeed ancient.

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