The look of the sand glistening on the ground on this past Sunday, June 24th 2012, may have lead one to think that he or she was somewhere seaside, but in fact, it was just between Madison and Fifth Ave. on 74th Street, where the Consulate General of France in New York decided to hold its annual Block Party, incorporating the traditional French game of Pétanque paired with fabulous rock music in the background.
As she passed by the block party that afternoon, I overheard a mother telling her child, “Honey, honey lets stick around; this is something very unusual”, and she was certainly representative of the many families around the area who were unfamiliar with this traditional French game until they happened to ‘stumble upon’ the event, perhaps on their weekly Sunday stroll or as they made their way to Central Park. Aside from an attempt at the game, individuals passing by that afternoon could also partake in traditional French cuisine or try their luck in a raffle to win two free roundtrip tickets to Paris.
As an American, I had very little exposure to Pétanque, aside from an encounter with individuals playing the game at a beach once near Marseille. Quite frankly, before going to the event, the game seemed to me like a ‘stick-less’ game of pool, but it is definitely more intricate than that: the game, played among two teams with at least three individuals per team, each holding two ‘boules’, must use their individual attempts to get as close to a target, the jack, called ‘le cochonnet’.
After seeing a child with very apt ability and accuracy, I quickly realized that it is a game that does not discriminate against age, gender, or speed. In fact, the game, which originated from an old French bowl game, ‘La Boule Provençale’, has been very popular among wheelchair competitors as well- this certainly encouraged me to make my own attempts at the Provençale tradition.
But it is certainly not only a southern French tradition; I was made aware that it is in fact a national tradition, as explained to me by Yogev Lavie, a private French instructor and translator for the Consulate General of France in New York: “I first experienced the game in Normandy (in the North of France) while on vacation with friends. My second encounter was when I was living in Paris a few years ago. I would see all the retired men living in Paris congregating to play the game behind my building.”
After just a few hours, I went from spectator to practitioner, partaking in an ancient tradition that unites people across borders, genders, and nationalities for a simple game of ‘fun in the sun’.