It’s 3 o’clock. The regulars are all here – rue Cardinet at the north-west entrance to Square Batignolles in the 17th arrondissement. A few of the boys are throwing warm up shots. The team mascot Mideau, a slim little dog, is full of nervous energy. She scampers back and forth along the inside of the perimeter wall with the finesse of an Olympic gymnast, shooing off the pigeons before the game starts. The throwing ring is in place, le cochonnet (the jack) is bowled out, and we’re underway with the afternoon boules tournament.
Everyday of the week les boulistes (the pétanque players) are here; winter, summer, autumn and spring. Mostly chaps in a mature age bracket, apparently the younger fellows (ahem, my age) play in the late afternoon and evening sessions. There are the playing teams, three each side, and the subs bench who might come on as impact players later when one of the first team subs himself off.
There are two large rectangular terrains de jeu (pitches), large enough for several games to run concurrently and all are occupied. The pitches are dust and gravel, the terrain is uneven and peppered with mounds and gullies. That’s all part of the challenge no doubt, with these wily players adept at using the vagaries of the surface to their strategic advantage, and when it doesn’t the typical shrug along with an expressive “pfff…c’est la vie” amuses me every time. So French!
The games progress briskly, from time to time the tape measure is needed to check before tactical advice is rendered for the bowler preparing for the final shot. Monsieur “le Shooter” steps into the ring, he steadies, cigarette carefully tucked into the corner of his mouth, he crouches slightly and launches a kill shot into the air aiming to knock out the best placed boule. When it lands right on target with a mighty claque there aren’t any high fives, a jolly “Bravo!” suffices. That game is wrapped up; the players pick up the balls with their magnetic sticks, de rigeur for serious players, and re-set for the next end.
It’s a very pleasant and captivating way to while away the time watching, especially in the spring sunshine. On busy rue Cardinet people commonly stop to watch the players, as I’ve done many times too. The chaps are an amiable bunch. A few weeks back when I stopped to watch I asked if I could take some photos, they happily obliged and chatted a little. Now when I walk past there is a perceptible nod of acknowledgement; la politesse is important here.
As inevitably as spring turns into summer and the warm sunlight filters through the trees les boulistes will be here enjoying the company of friends. This terrain de jeu in the 17th arrondissement is a sublime little patch of conviviality and sunshine, and I shall enjoy visiting to watch and soak up the ambiance.