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Have a ball (or two)
I found these pétanque (or ‘boules’, your choice) players along the covered section of the Canal St Martin at République, in Bde J. Ferry. Chances are though, that you will find other players wherever there is a park with an area of smooth fine gravel – not just in Paris, but throughout France. Forget soccer, this probably comes closest to being France’s national game.
Players have two steel balls (no humour intended) and there are usually two players a side, giving four balls a side. The idea is to throw your balls (boules in French) so that they finish up closer to a jack than those of the opposing team – yes, knocking their balls out of the way is very much part of the game, so tactics become important. The thrower stands with feet together and lobs the ball with an underarm backhand toss. Sometimes, to sight better, the toss is done from a squatting position (as in the main photo). Scoring is done by counting the nearest balls from the jack until the next nearest belongs to an opponent. This continues until the set is won by the first side to reach 13. It’s all a very serious business, which attracts keen onlookers (second photo).
Equipment: I think that, if there was a car sticker, it would read "Pétanque players have balls of steel".
Petanque in Paris
'Petanque' is an old French game with steel balls (boules), and if you've been to Southern France, you must have seen some petanque-players around in the parks.
The game is not only played at a fun-level though. It has it's own World Championships and other huge local and international tournaments all around the world.
But petanque is most known as the 'national sport' in France, and natuarally it's played in Paris too, even though it's most popular in the southern areas of the country.
Would be hard to explain the full rules here, but if you would like to watch the game, try playing it yourself or maybe you've already an experienced player...there is some great places to do so in the center of Paris....
ARENES DE LUTECE
This old gladitors arena is now the home of a petanque club, which has it's 'clubhouse' just across the street in a small bar. You'll be able to see some players there every day, and many people go there to relax a little or play different games (soccer, Frisbee...). The arena is located near 'Place Monge' and 'Jardin des Plantes'.
JARDIN DU LUXEMBOURG
This is another great place to play the game. In the eastern end of the huge park, there a some nice petanque-courts under the trees and with a small pancake house besides them. The park can be found near the Latin Quarter.
The park around the Les Halles area is another place were you get the chance to meet some petanque players, and get to watch them play...mainly in the afternoon hours.
Equipment: If you wanna play yourself but don't have any boules, you just gotta find the nearest big sports shop, where you'll get a set of 3 boules for a fair price. Look in one of the big 'GO SPORT' shops....can be found inside Les Halles for example.
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Perfect your pétanque!
For me at least, pétanque seems like the quintessential French pastime, evoking images of groups of ageing men playing on shimmeringly hot days in shady small town squares.
Pétanque is a form of boules, and somewhat related to the sport of bowls, except that as it is played on a gravel surface, the balls are thrown rather than rolled. I was charmed to discover that the small wooden ball that the players aim to land the larger hollow metal balls closest to is called a 'cochonnet' (piglet), which ably illustrates the rural origins of the game!
This photo was taken in one of the small public parks between Canal St Martin and Place du Bastille.
Equipment: On pétanque grounds, you will probably be expected to provide your own set of balls, but don't need any other equipment, except perhaps a bottle of wine, some beers and a picnic to enjoy as you play! Pétanque sets make nice souvenirs, but be warned that they will consume considerable portions of your luggage space and baggage allowance!
Boules in the parc
This is a current pic of Square Gaston Baty - what was once described as Henry Miller's "little triangle of the Square du Maine"
across the street from one of my hotels in Montparnasse (du Parc) after they cleaned it up and put in a petanque / boules court.
Being a cross between a naive-romantic american tourist and a curmudgeon, I miss the way it was in Oct. 2001:
overgrown, lush, and deserted save for me and the leftovers from a homeless person who spent the previous night on a bench with some bread and a cheap bottle of rouge.
What does remain is a sculpture of Chaim Soutine by his buddy and fellow artist Arbit Blatas, not shown in the pic.
Equipment: Bring your own boules. Square Gaston Baty is one of the many small Espaces Verts in Paris that make it such a great city.
I just wish they would have left this one alone.
Back in '01 when it was an overgrown mess,
I swear you could sit down on one of the inner benches after midnight, and
(if you were sloshed enough), Henry's ghost might park right next to you.
"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. "
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Old Boys Playing Boules
Champ De Mars is the name of that large park in front of the Eiffel Tower. On a nice spring day there's a good chance you'll come across a game of boules being played by a group of old men. One fellow throws a small red wooden ball called a "cochonnet" (English translation: "piglet") about 20 meters and then the group tries to toss their big steel boules as close to the cochonnet as possible using what I observed as a variety of different tossing techniques.
The group I watched also had a nearby bench of colorful characters who appeared to give commentary on each individual's play. It's amusing to watch the contrast in style as some try to lob with a high backspin on the ball and others stay low to the ground and roll their boule like a bowling ball.
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