Anyone for Jeu de Paume?

photo: doubles, jeu de paume

A view of the 'short' Paume court, with a doubles match
in progress. All the black areas are 'in.'

At the World Championships

Paris:- Friday, 13. October 2000:- Although I did not know it at the time, one of the reasons for creating the Café Metropole Club was to allow this magazine's readers to come to club meetings to tell me what is going on in Paris.

This has worked out really well. Doug Fuss has been a 'signed-up' member since late in December of last year. Whenever he gets tired of the rat-race in Savannah, Georgia, he comes to Paris so that he can go to Poland and inspect salt mines.

When he isn't on exciting excursions, he gets a copy of one of Paris' weekly program magazines, such as 'Pariscope.' This is full of one week's-worth of 'right now' items, all in very small print.

At last Thursday's club meeting, he had one of his 'finds' ready and it was a lulu! Imagine this - the 'World Championship for the Jeu de Courte Paume.'

Because of the year 2000 this has been transformed into one of the elements of this year's overall 'Fête de l'An 2000.'

This is all the more remarkable because the game is played according to rules fixed by the 'Ordonnance du Royal et Honorable Jeu de la Paume' in 1592, exactly 100 years after Columbus 'discovered America.'

Actually, monks were playing the game without benefit of its royal rules in the 11th or 12th century. In the 13th century Paris had a dozen courts for the game, and in the 16th century therephoto: expo, jeu de paume were about 250. The decline came a century later when the number of courts dropped to 114, with many of their halls being transformed into theatres.

One of the two squash courts, serving as an exhibition space during the World Championships.

The last one, in the Passage Sandrié, was expropriated in 1861, to make way for the building of the opera's Palais Garnier. But Napoléon III stepped in and gave the Cercle de Jeu de Paume de Paris the right to a hall in the Tuileries a year later.

In 1907 the Tuileries' Jeu de Paume was converted into an art gallery. The club's members had two new courts built on the second floor of a building in the Rue Lauriston, close to the Etoile, and since 1908 this has been the Paris club's headquarters.

Even though it is 'close to the Etoile,' I take the métro to the Victor Hugo stop, to avoid Etoile's tunnels. The Rue Lauriston is an old path dating to 1730, and the Jeu de Paume's discrete sign is reinforced by a sizeable France-3 television production truck. All I have to do is follow its cables up the stairs.

The club's space has enough brown wood to look like an old club. The first court come first, with a widened passage behind the three rows of seats for spectators.

This spectator area is like a slit of a space, with a slit of a long view of the court, behind a stout net. Along the left side of the court, there is another viewpoint - from the 'penthouse' - but with only room for one line of seats for spectators.

In 1926, one of the Paris' Jeu de Paume two courts was converted into four squash courts, and these were the first in France. These are beyond the first court, off an encumbered passageway. The squash courts are lit by a long skylight, high overhead - which suggests this was once the 'long' court.

Two of the squash courts are serving as exhibition areas for 'L'Art de la Paume,' featuring works by the artists Bernard Bouin, Jeanne Lichtlé, Pierre le Cacheux and François Millon.

The club has a clubroom with a modest bar and a modest case of trophies. Above the spectator space behind the first court there is a marble panel listing the names of illustrious players, going back to the 1920's.

Today, the game is played by about 5000 worldwide - who mostly live in the United States, Australia, Great Britain and France.

This 'Jeu de Roi - Roi de Jeu' is still popular around the big universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and explains why the best playersphoto: spectators are often students or graduates of these establishments.

Early Jeu de Paume was handball as you may be able to guess from its name. Basically, the game is the 'pre'-version of tennis and squash, and is related to trinquet and Basque pelote.

For spectators, there are three lines of seats - and no bleachers.

The scoring is exactly the same as in tennis, but since the ball can be returned via rebounds from the black-painted walls it is a bit more like squash to play. The parts of the court painted white are 'out,' which is about the same as hitting the centre net.

Since I don't dream about tennis rules while sleeping, I am not going into details about the Jeu de Paume's rules. The ball is still in play after two bounces, which probably means something to tennis fans. The 'chasse' rule is really different, and I don't understand it.

The racquets for Jeu de Paume resemble old-fashioned wooden-framed tennis racquets, but they have a smaller hitting surface - about the size of a squash racquet.

I don't know about the racquets, but the balls are handmade by the 'Maître Paumier.' They are solid, made with chiffon and string, weigh 70 grams, and have to be remade every 15 days because nobody manufactures them.

The heavier solid ball requires a heavier racquet, and I imagine it requires a bit more attention being paid to it, to avoid punishing collisions, and explain the stout netting protecting the spectators.

For this 'World Championship' two cups and one trophy are at stake.

The 'Coupe Bathurst,' which is being disputed during my visit, is the 'Davis Cup' of the Jeu de Paume and was first contested in 1922 at the Queen's Club in London. This has been won by Britain 33 times, by America five times; while France is still hopeful of matching Australia's one victory.

The 'Coupe Gould Eddy' is a doubles competition named after two American champions. Jay Gould won it annually from 1906 to 1925 - there were no matches in 1918-19 - and Spencer Eddy won it three times. The French do not do well in these matches, although Deves and Lawton from Bordeaux won the cup the first time.

For players over 50, there is the 'Trophée Ted Cockram' which is also contested by teams and the matches are limited to three sets.

These 'World Championships' began on Friday, 6. October and finish up with the 'Trophée Ted Cockram' on Wednesday, 18. October. While there is not much room for spectators, the matches start at 9:30 and continue until about 19:00 daily except for Sunday, 15. October.

The club serves a simple lunch of foie gras for 32 francs and ordinary wine is eight francs perphoto: sign, jeu de paume glass. Be sure to try the red Château Falfas, Cuvée du Club, for 10 francs a shot.

Other locations of Jeu de Paume courts in France are in Fountainbleau's chateau, built in 1737 and recently restored; and the Bordeaux courts which were built in 1978.

There is an upsurge of interest by lady players in this purely amateur sport. Jeu de Paume is considered to be like chess, compared to tennis being like checkers. It requires more skill and tactics than brute power.

La Société Sportive du Jeu de Paume et de Racquets de Paris, 74 ter, Rue Lauriston, Paris 16. InfoTel.: 01 47 27 46 86.

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