Pétanque, Bocce, and Horseshoes

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Pétanque in Luxembourg Garden, Paris
Pétanque in Luxembourg Garden, Paris

A warm afternoon in the shade.

In a quiet back corner of the park. The bird songs mix with the background traffic sounds of Paris.

You have the last throw. Your teammate is depending on you to find a way to get closer to the bright orange cochonnet.

(You can see the silver ball near the middle of the photo below the outstretched hand. It has just been thrown in the traditional pétanque motion. The orange cochonnet is in the distance surrounded by the previously thrown balls.)

Each team has a specialist in placement (pointing) and another who can drop their shot onto an opponent’s boule (ball) and knock it out of the way. The skilled ‘shooters’ have an amazing success rate of blasting the other team out of the way and leaving their boule near the target.

Pétanque is a popular French game. It is recreation that doesn’t require multi-million dollar sports stars and can be played by almost anyone. It is also known as boules, which is the plural form of boule-the French word for ball. It is played on whatever native soil is at hand in the village square, restaurant courtyard, or park.

The competition and the good-natured teasing are both rich. Since it is a sport that can be played for life old friends spend countless hours trying to beat each other building rivalries and stories. Pétanque is played in tiny villages and in large cities. The throwing balls are steel and weigh ~700 g (1.5 lbs.) and are about 7.5 cm (3 inches) in diameter. Weight and size depend on the style of the player and what their role is on the team, pointing or shooting. The cochonnet is wooden and is about 3 cm (~1 inch) in diameter.

Pétanque is something like a cross between the Italian game of bocce and the American game of horseshoes. Bocce is ideally played on packed, crushed oyster shells. The object is to roll your ball down an enclosed lane to end closest to the target ball, the pallino. Sometimes the bocce ball is thrown in an arc also. Horseshoes are thrown (underhanded) in an arc, sometimes spinning, toward a target stake. The pétanque ball is thrown underhanded, but with the palm down, with a back spin, in a high arc. And pétanque is played without a defined field. The cochonnet is thrown across the patch of dirt and the players aim towards it wherever it falls. Sometimes more than one pétanque match is played at a time on the same ground.

In all three games knocking the opponents out of the points is an honored skill and a key strategy, as it is in shuffleboard and curling also.

These players in the back corner of Luxembourg Garden in Paris appeared to be old friends. They probably pass many hours together in this spot. And their matches make a good spectator sport for people walking through the park.

There are more Paris photos in my France gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.

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