On Saturdays, when the city’s afternoon heat diminishes, many male and female foreigners from a diverse range of countries converge at Alliance Française, the French cultural centre, to play Pétanque.
“Originated in Marseille - the southern port city of France - Pétanque is played by people of all ages,” one of the players explains during one such evening. “In those parts of the countryside or cities, where one can find soft soil and a lot of shady trees, millions get together just the way they gather in café, without any prior introduction. And it just happens that they start forming teams and play the game as a happy pastime.”
The hollowed steel balls (‘boules’ in French) weigh 0.650kg to 0.800kg each. The diameter of a standard ball is 7.05cm to 8cm. The game is played by two teams of one (tête-à-tête), two, three or four players. There must not be more than 12 boules on the ground. In teams of two-and-two, each player has three boules, in teams of three or four, each player has two boules.
The two teams toss a coin and the winner starts the game. Any player in the team chooses the starting place and draws a 36cm-to-50cm circle on the ground in which to stand. The same player then throws the wooden jack, cochonnet, about 6m to 10m away. Both of the thrower’s feet remain inside the circle until the jack has reached the ground.
Any player from this team, anchored within the circle, throws the first boule trying to place it as near as possible to the jack. Boules are thrown underarm, generally with the palm of the hand facing downwards. A player in the second team comes into the circle and tries to throw his boule even nearer to the jack or knock away the leading boule placed by the other team. The boule that is nearest to the jack leads.
Finally, the winning team gets as many points as it has boules, which are better placed. The new bout is started by the winner of the previous game. A throwing circle is drawn and the game continues until one of the teams gets 13 points.
“People in French-speaking countries carry games, such as Scrabble and Pétanque, to picnics,” another female player explained. “Many towns even have boulodromes constructed especially to play pétanque. This simple-to-learn game is fun for all the family and everybody can afford a few boules.”
This year the Pétanque World Championship is going to be held in Tahiti during the months of October and November. This competition, which is held every two years, has been played 45 times since its 1969 launch in Belgium. It is currently limited to 48 countries. The annual individual tournament held at Marseille attracts over 10,000 players and 150,000 spectators.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2014.
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