Thursday, 25 September 2008

Play or watch Pétanque in France

For a stereotypical image of France, aside from a man in a stripy shirt with onions round his neck underneath the Eiffel tower, you cannot beat a game of boules.
Ah... old men - preferably wearing berets and smoking pipes - leisurely lobbing metal balls into a sandpit in the afternoon sunshine.
The idea is fairly simple, and is closely related to the British version of bowling. The closer you get to the small jack, the better.
Pétanque is the more simplified version of boules, and originated in the south of the country, where it is more prevalent. Ostensibly, it is played for fun, although it doesn’t take much watching to realise that this isn’t the case. At even the lowest level, it is regarded as a game of precision and technique, and this has a tendency to fuel male pride.
It’s important to bear this in mind if you fancy a game. A complete stranger is unlikely to offer you the chance to play, while if you buy your own set of boules, consider the serious looks on the faces around you before treating it as a raucous lark in the local Boulodrome.
Should you wish to watch, then Grenoble is something of a hotspot. The city at the foot of the Alps has held three of the last five World Championships in the sport, hosting competitors from 52 nations.
However, for a dip into history, try the small village of La Ciotat. Just outside Marseille, this is where the game originated.

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