Boules players at the place de la Nation
Boules players on May Day, at the place de la Nation.

A Low-Tech Free Way to Pass the Good Time

from Walter Conway, via the Internet Dear Ric,

Paris:- Tuesday, 29. April 1997 For an example of the difference between French and US kids, go to the Luxembourg Gardens playground and marionette show. There are loads of kids playing, shouting, screaming. All sharing rides, standing in line, being kids, but being kids that have respect for each other and the 'group.' The three of us watched them, and the 'hall monitors' with their whistles had little to do.

In the Luxembourg Gardens, I spent an absolutely delightful couple of hours nearly by myself watching people play boules Friday afternoon. I have no idea what these people do for a living; I don't know where they live; I care not about either. But for a wonderful study of French psyche, nothing beats it.

All the same, boule watching is better in the south where arguments are more voluble and pastis flows more freely, but Paris is a pretty good second.

My wife Meredith and I were at Club Med in Mexico. Our room was on the ground floor, and outside the window was a boules area in the sand on the beach. Each evening we were entertained by French playing boules... and each morning we were surprised by the incredible number of empty glasses on our window ledge! We enjoyed it more every day.

Any Place, Any Time, Is Boules-Playing Time
Dear Walt,

Paris:- Thursday, 1. May 1997:- In a hectic week, the boules-playing area of the Luxembourg Gardens was not on my erratic itinerary. Arriving today at the place de la Nation to catch the arrival of the traditional May Day parade, I initially found no sign of the huge march.

Looking around for 50,000 'hidden' marchers, I spotted a group of people under some trees on the northeast side of the very big place and I went over to see if they were marchers having a heated political discussion. When I got closer, I saw that what was 'heated' was a game of boules, taking place under the intense scrutiny of a small crowd.

'Boules,' or 'pétanque' is one of the best games around and it is not necessary to be French or drink pastis to enjoy it. 'Boules' is bowling, and it is done with metal balls and it is usually played on dirt; so it can be played anywhere uncivilized, anywhere so long it is not concrete, asphalt or grass.

Many communities have set up boules-laying areas, but if there are none, it is played anywhere. The last time I played, was in a railway-crossing hotel's parking lot, which had some left-over gravel - hazards! It was Easter and it was snowing.

Boules requires only the balls themselves. There are no uniforms and the only possible extra equipment - for really serious games with serious players - is a carpenter's tape-measure. Some players bring along an old rag to wipe their hands, or wipe off the balls. When the balls are new, they are very shiny, as if they are chromed; but with age they resemble old and grey cannon balls.

Perhaps the best thing about boules or pétanque, is that the games are always played outside. Why watch afternoon TV game shows, when you can go over the Luxembourg and play a game for free?

Regards, Ric

See 'On a Café Terrace With Metropole Readers,' which is a short article about meeting Walter, Meredith and Kasuko, during their recent visit to Paris.

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