A Southern California Boules Court Revisited
In November, 2002, we completed a Pétanque court at our hillside home in Los Angeles. We had a terraced plane with suitable dimensions: 18 feet wide and 50 feet long. Drainage was excellent so all we had to do was pull up the grass, put down about three inches of crushed gravel, then top it with three inches of decomposed granite (not stone dust, as I had originally reported: I’ve since learned that stone dust is something quite different). We rented a tamper to tamp down the surface and we were ready to play.
At that time we posted our story and pictures on this site. Here’s our update.
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“Le Destroyer” shoots under the fountain. Note the light on the next level; it’s one of three.
After about two months of play we began to see stones in the gravel and realized that we needed more top surface. Accordingly we ordered the same quantity of decomposed granite as we had used the first time – 4 tons – and tamped it down. The piste plays much better now, though it is far from perfect. The problem is its unevenness, which sometimes goes beyond desirable quirkiness. However, we’ve found that we can keep the terrain nicely playable if we rake it lightly and fill the divots after every four or five games.
I’m anxious to get back to Provence this summer to re-study the courts there and compare them with ours. My wife Diana insists that my memory of the surfaces is romanticized; she predicts that I will find them just as imperfect as ours. We will see.
There have been other changes in our home site. Diana found a nice ice cream parlor style table and chairs for the “bistro” on the middle-level overlooking the court. The cast iron table and chairs you can see at the south end used to be half-hidden in a garden behind the house; I moved them down. My son Aaron and his girlfriend Sarah donated the lovely fountain on the ivy-covered wall at the north end of the court. After they gave it to us, I wondered if the gift was not defensive – meant to dissuade me from ordering one of those “Fanny” relief sculptures for the spot, which would have embarrassed them. Actually, I had no intention of buying a “Fanny.” Instead I hired a stripper to wear a thong and serve the Pastis. The trouble was, all the male players started losing on purpose to have to pay the penalty. OK, the stripper part is a lie, but I’m thinking about it -- if only Diana would let me.
Given our Southern California climate, Pétanque is a year-round activity here, but our so-called winter does share one characteristic with yours: short days. It was frustrating to have to stop playing at 4:30 in the afternoon. So we had three lights -- low-voltage floods, 175 watts each -- installed on posts above the court – and they’ve worked out beautifully.
The most amazing thing about our court has been that it has become Mission Pétanque: everyone we’ve introduced to the game has become a convert. Indeed, so many of our friends come over for our Sunday afternoon games that the overflow has inspired another idea. We’ve just had the grass on the lawn on the house level redone, and when it takes root, those waiting their turns for Pétanque will be able to play Croquet. We hope that sponsoring simultaneous games of Croquet and Pétanque will set a good example for the reparation of Anglo-Franco relations. We wish we had room for a baseball diamond, too, but one does what one can within the space available.
Aaron and Diana: Our only two real tireurs.
We’ve bought several sets of excellent French boules. All have been acquired from two online sources in the U.S.: Playaboule in Seattle (which sells MS Pétanque, Boules Bleue, and Integrale) and PétanqueAmerica in Miami (Obut). Although we’ve read that 80% of champions play with smooth, shooter’s boules, most of our gang prefer the heavy, densely striated pointer’s models. This, I think, is because few of our group are tireurs. The exceptions are Diana (called “Le Destroyer” in France), who is happy with her small (71mm), heavy (730gr), and sparsely engraved Classic Bleues (which look like iron now that the blue paint has worn off), and Aaron, whose shooting becomes more accurate every week; even so, he likes the Obut “waffle iron” (72mm, 730gr) better than the soft shooter’s models. I’m a pointer and I use the MS “turtle-shell” model (72mm, 710gr). Our guests fight over the two Bleue “pineapples” -- the 4Ibis Classics (71mm, 710) and the Inox (73mm, 730gr). I think we’ve hit the limit on pointers, though, because we’d be duplicating designs if we added more.
In the boules chest: The four striated sets are most in demand.
At first, not unexpectedly, Diana and I were the best players, but after five months of play, we are no longer the stars. Probably the best all-around player is Mike, a graduate film student at UCLA visiting from Scotland. Mike is neither shooter nor pointer but a bit of both; what makes him truly brilliant is in his strategic play. And Aaron’s shooting is becoming deadly. Last weekend, in a long afternoon of triplets, Mike and Aaron (plus Francis, another Scot) were on one team and Diana and I the other (along with John, a promising newcomer). Although most of the games were close and competitive, Diana and I lost eight straight – a new record on this court.
The newly grassed lawn on the house level – soon-to-be the site of while-you-wait Croquet. Under the arch are the stairs down to the Pétanque court.
Mike has a strange style. As Aaron puts it, he looks as if he’s releasing the little boule back to the sea. But thanks to his pointing accuracy and strategic intelligence, he’s our best player.
Triplettes are without doubt the most sociable game, but we think Doublettes are the most competitive – and you get to throw three boules each, which seems to sharpen every player’s skill. Here Aaron wonders how his boules rolled into a different time zone while Diana and I wonder if we need to measure. Scottish Mike has already picked up his boules but does not look worried.He’s confident he’ll win – and usually does.
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