You’ve played petanque for years in the U.S.; now it’s time to go up against the home team. So you head up to Fontvieille where, at the entrance to the town, is a public park with three tiers of courts. You show up a little after three in the afternoon and a game is already underway: two teams, three guys per team, each person plays two boules, and the first team to 13 wins. So you watch, hang out on the “sidelines” (the court today has no official boundaries) and look interested.
You are ignored complètement, as they click their boules, kick the dirt, shoot, and argue about points and strategy with big gestures. You even hear a disgusted “Merde!” and most likely other curses for which your paltry French has no meaning. So you start up a conversation with an old dude in a wheelchair, also observing the action. After a particularly good shot he points and says “Un champion.” He used to play, but, ah, no more, he says tapping his right thigh. At the end of his leg is not a foot, or a prosthetic foot, but a chrome peg with a black rubber stopper on the end. “Je suis fini,” he says.
It is clear that not even a surly look, much less a “Bonjour” will emerge from this tough crowd, so you walk up to one of the other courts where a game is in progress, this time with two old guys on one team and an old guy and a chunky farm girl on the other. No acknowledgement from any of them either, although you do strike up a conversation with an old dude, walking his dog, but has stopped to check out the action. Finally you decide it’s time to break out your boules, even if it’s only to play with yourself (sorry about that image) and get used to how the boules land and roll on the hard court surface.
The next morning, having a coffee at the café just down from the courts. You see one of the guys from the game yesterday and say you saw him playing, and “Je voudrais a jouer petanque avec lui et ses amis.” He nods and says to come today. You can’t, but you tell him you will see him another day. Bien.