Sunday, June 04, 2006

from Pierrerue: the games men play

I had heard that two villages down from Pierrerue, they were having a Petanque concurs today.

Europe 06 France 572

Independently, I had heard that Pierrerue men and men from villages further down regarded themselves as Petanque champs. Put a Pierrerue guy next to one from, say Capestang (south of here) or Roquebrun (a bit more north) and my villager will beat the pants off of either one.

Speaking of pants, in a comment to a post below, Ann had wondered if men around here wore short pants. I had an answer for her, just from looking around markets and café bars, but what better place to test this than in a gathering of men.

For Petanque is a game for men. And boys. (It’s not a rule, it’s just the way it is. I was asked several times if I would like to try, but I know not to place my skirt where it does not belong.) They start young. Here’s someone who knew how to handle the balls:

Europe 06 France 592

Back to pants. I have yet to see a single woman, young or old, in short pants of any sort. It’s all about skirts for the madame and the teeny set does the American jeans thing. So that the local girls who came out on their motorbikes to root for their boys, looked like this:

Europe 06 France 581

Men, on the other hand, young and old (by old, I mean older than me, of course) are heavily into cropped pants.

Europe 06 France 610

So this is the scene: they show up, they greet: salut! -- for the casual acquaintance, a handshake for the better pal and always kisses (yes, between men as well) on both cheeks for the "known you all my life" sort. And these are not air kisses, these are loud smackers to be heard a block away.

They stand around and talk (this takes a while), holding their boules behind their back. [There is a stance that is adopted – it is the man with boules stance and it looks like this:]

Europe 06 France 625

And then they play. They form teams. Here are the scorekeepers:

Europe 06 France 594

And then, in every corner, in the courtyard, in the gravel parking lot, in front of the Mairie, they start their games. Young and old, in mixed teams. Such grace there is in tossing that ball, to get it closer to the little tiny speck of a ball up ahead!

Europe 06 France 609

I had to smile thinking back to my loft in Madison. In front of it, they built a Petanque court. I do not know what they were thinking. No one I know in Madison knows how to play Petanque. My landlord bragged how it’s regulation size. It is finely graded and graveled.

Here, in the small village of Prades in Southern France, no one cares about finely graded and graveled. The gravel is uneven, they mark the starting line with their foot and they manifest such skill in tossing that thing about that you cannot tear yourself away from watching.

But I did eventually turn away. The games went on for a long time, aided by a makeshift stand where soft drinks, wine and beer were sold by the glass (wine was cheapest, beer was the priciest).

Hiking back up the hill to Pierrerue, I passed the usual assortment of grape vines and stunning terrain, but what stood out and deserved a photo was the sight of a man working the fields on this brilliant day. Salut to you, too. Sorry you could not join the rest.

Europe 06 France 619

In Pierrerue, I found that at least a handful of men from my village had scorned the games of the neighbors. They were in front of the Mairie, engaged in their own Saturday routine. I watched and took a photo or two. They liked the attention. They bantered and egged each other on about messing up for the madame with the camera.

Europe 06 France 632
the men of Pierrerue

In the early evening I took the car down to St. Chinian. I needed a baguette for my dinner of a calamari salad back home. I passed the village square and remembered that I had arrived at this time exactly a week ago. I had noticed the older men and the boules then and here they were again. I stopped and watched. Is it Petanque as well? No, explained one. This is Boules Lyonaise. Played not on gravel but on packed dirt. It’s all about precision here. A guy marks spots carefully and measures distances with a marker.

I am told they have been playing for years. Petanque -- that’s just for fun. This is serious stuff. It used to be that every village had a Lyonaise team and there would be real competitions. Now, its’ mostly just in the towns, like St Chinian.

They don’t play boules in America? He asked, surprised.

Europe 06 France 652

Europe 06 France 655