Boules being tossed on leisurely afternoons in Provençal village squares dotted with plane trees, or on gravel-patch streets in front of cafés bordered outside by bistro tables, are the mind’s eye impressions of pétanque, largely formed from photographs. Occasionally, pétanque has been the focal point of episodic glimpses of life in the south of France, with Peter Mayle’s bestseller, “A Year in Provence” (1989 book and 1993 BBC TV series), the prime example. But there are few book-length accounts featuring the game, at least in English.
“Uncorked: My Year in Provence Studying Pétanque, Discovering Chagall, Drinking Pastis, and Mangling French” by Canadian Paul Shore (Sea to Sky Books, 2016) is the exception. Grant Lawrence, noted CBC broadcaster, sums up the narrative nicely: “One part travelogue, one part self-help guide, one part memoir, ‘Uncorked’ is just like a good French wine: light, delicious, and full of flavour.”
After persuading his startup company to open its first European outpost on the French Riviera, Shore, a young software engineer, settles in for a year’s posting to Saint-Paul de Vence, the Côte d’Azur village where renowned artist Marc Chagall had lived, worked . . . and frequently played pétanque. Shortly after taking the keys to his apartment, Shore wanders over to what he thought of as “the ball playing place” outside the main café and immediately becomes entranced with the ambience of the game.
Shore convinces his new friend and neighbor, Hubert, to teach him pétanque. Gradually they begin competing as doubles partners in Saint-Paul and nearby villages, at times dramatically succeeding against village “bests” – enjoying pastis as victors – and at other times enjoying pastis after narrowly escaping “being Fanny” (losing 13-0). Shore uses pétanque as his entry point into storytelling, with rich descriptions of the local community and its slower pace, French culture, the endless nuances of the language, and the genius of Chagall.
While getting to the South of France is hard just now, we are looking forward to a time, soon, when you can join us in experiencing the challenges of simplicity, the nuances of technique and strategy, and the personal satisfactions of tossing boules with some “nouveaux amis” on the Oakmont Pétanque Club courts.
Club play remains suspended due to the Health Order but player-arranged pickup games continue under the posted Reopening Rules on the Oakmont courts between Berger and the OVA offices/Umpqua Bank.
Those using the courts are reminded to keep a minimum of 6 feet social distance at all times and to bring and use their own equipment, face covering and hand sanitizer. Masks covering mouth and nose should be worn at all times. Gatherings before and after games are prohibited.
The Club will announce when it will officially resume sponsorship of open, random team selection Club Play in the regularly scheduled 9:45 a.m. – noon time slot on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Our first 2021 tourney, the Bastille Day Tournament, is tentatively scheduled for July 14.
IMAGE: UNCORKED BOOK COVER