I had a really enjoyable week's petanque in Greece at Preveza Beach http://www.preveza-beach.gr/ at the 17th Festival de Petanque, organised by the French Federation. I was the only English player amongst 170 French players, plus a few Greek players.
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The week long festival was organised into 4 main events: Singles, Doubles, Triples and a 4-match Doubles Mêlée with a change of partners and opponents for each match. Everything was "à la mêlée" so partners and opponents were always at random.
The venue was the Preveza Beach Club hotel, a large 4-storey hotel right on the seafront, a 15 minute coach ride from Preveza town, on the Greek mainland. The terrain was a large slightly sloping area, half of it open in the sun, half under the shade of trees. The surface was very varied and included some areas that were quite hard and fast, sandy and muddy areas, softer spongy areas, rather like playing on grass, and very stony areas all under the trees. The stony area under the trees was sloping and in places the tree roots across the terrain quite literally created 'steps' across the playing surface. Anybody who thinks that petanque is played on a smooth, flat surface would be in for a major shock!
I did find the terrain quite difficult, as games frequently moved from one surface to another. You'd start on a hard area, the next end would move to a spongy area, then the sandy bit and then onto the stones. With the slope meaning you could be playing up, down and across the slope on a variety of surfaces really made things interesting! Pointing was a really test of skill and technique as you needed to use different shots according to which area you were playing on.
I did see some of the most spectacular, accurate high lobs from one player who, on the softer areas where the boule didn't roll, would thrown his boules incredibly high and land with remarkable accuracy within 50cm of the coche, the boule descending vertically and hardly moving upon impact. I did watch the same player on one of the worst stony areas and he didn't get within 1m of the coche.
I have to confess I was slightly disappointed by my own performance. I played very erratically, sometimes playing well, and actually winning a couple of Fannys, sometimes not so well and getting punished in return. Although mixed, the standard overall was pretty good, with the majority being experienced competition players. However, in the triples match, we had a charming woman who announced, "Messieurs, I'm very sorry, but I don't play boules, I'm only here with my husband!" We had a not very on form shooter, I was 1st pointer and she was 2nd. We lost our 2 matches and were eliminated from the main event. C'est la vie!
My very first match in the singles was against the eldest participant, an 82 year old, nicknamed "The Pope" because of his physical resemblance and the fact that he took at nap at any opportunity! Although he admitted he no longer had the strength to shoot, his pointing was still pretty good. He told me he started playing in 1945 and I'm sure his wealth of nearly 60 year's experience playing was the reason he thrashed me 11-1! Matches in the qualifying rounds were played to 11 points. I'm afraid my performance in the remaining 4 singles matches didn't get much better and I lost all 5.
André, "The Pope", beamed as he told me later he'd qualified for the main event, "Without shooting a single boule!" again demonstrating how his experience and accurate pointing paid off, even against good shooters. The final actually ended up between 2 Greek players who, much to the disapproval of the French purists, shot "à la rafle".
My best games were all doubles. One a closely fought "friendly", mainly played on both the "bouncy" surface and the very stony surface under the trees. We finished the last end under the trees, leading 11 points, my partner had the "nearest" boule, although nobody could get really near on such a surface and I had 2 boules to play. The opponents nearest boule was behind our own. On such a difficult surface, there was no guarantee of out-pointing their nearest boule, so I decided to shoot. The 1st boule missed but the 2nd was a carreau, giving us the game and much applause from the French.
In the Doubles tournament, we won our first match but lost the second, so had to win the "barrage" to qualify for the main event. We had to play the first team again and this time had a fairly easy Fanny to qualify, much to the disgust of the losing team, somewhat miffed about being Fannied by the only English player! Unfortunately there was a slightly sour note in the qualifying round. We were having a good, tightly fought game, 7-8 down, each team having scored 1 or 2 points at each end. We were playing on a faster, downhill section of the terrain, difficult to control and stop the boule. The opponent's 1st boule was behind the coche. I was pointing and played all 3 boules, each further behind the coche. My partner was obviously not impressed with my pointing and, somewhat in desperation and without consulting, twice tried to shoot the opponent's back boule. He missed both times, pointed his last boule which was easily shot out, gifting the opponents 5 points and the match. Despite the fact that I thought it was tactically wrong to shoot and the fact that he missed twice, he blamed me for losing the match and walked off without shaking hands.
Overall the majority were very sporting. However, like most games, it's far more enjoyable and profitable to play with somebody who is supporting and encouraging rather than somebody who criticises everything you do.
In the final match in the 4-game mêlée, I had a really good pointer who was happy for me to shoot. Fortunately I was on form, hitting the majority of shots, including a rather nice carreau on a difficult back boule which gave us a comfortable win on the final game and much praise from my French partner for the carreau.
I didn't do well enough to win any of the main prizes, the overall winner is offered next year's Festival free, but did come away with a souvenir t-shirt and key-ring.
As most people will know if they've played in France, the atmosphere and conviviality, is just as important, if not more so, to the French as the playing. Everybody eats and drinks together and has a good laugh. The weather was warm and sunny all week, everybody playing in shorts and t-shirt. There were also various excursions throughout the week, if you did want a break from playing. I went on a last-day boat cruise around the islands and managed a few games of backgammon with the crew on the boat, winning 3 out of 5 matches. The Greeks are as passionate about backgammon as the French are about petanque and it was great to have a few games against "real" players.
Several players seemed very keen to promote links between French and English players, many of them not realising that petanque is popular here too. If any club is interested in playing a French club, I have contact details.
Ray Ager Tel/Fax +44 1273 673637
www.lapetanque.co.uk The UK's online bouleshop
www.pavilion.co.uk/petanque Brighton & Hove Pétanque Club
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