By Ray Ager
After a thoroughly enjoyable club visit to St Leger du Bourg Denis, I had an equally enjoyable extra week playing in Biarritz. Biarritz is a medium size resort with 3 clubs. I played every day at Parc Mazon, a small club in a small park, 10 minutes walk from my hotel in the Old Port.
I was made very welcome by the group of about 12-15 regulars who played every day, with the usual proviso, "If you're any good you can stay, otherwise we'll change the teams." Happily they let me stay and as a gesture of goodwill, I joined the club for the season, 60F, although they very kindly said, "All that's really necessary is that you come back next year."
The terrain was devilish difficult: basically a 'T' shape using the tree-lined roads in the park, with benches at the side where the old men would sit, giving a running commentary on every boule played: "Too long, too short, that's gone through, in front, that's good, down the slope, don't shoot like that, HIT the boule, etc!". The long part of the 'T' was slightly sloping, fairly hard with a soft dust/gravel covering. But the cross of the 'T', in front of the club-house, was a much more uneven tarmac/stony road, on a VERY pronounced slope, complete with 2-3 deep rain gullies running down the slope and several rocky areas. And of course, this was the end where the locals played most of their games! To add insult to injury, the open drains were at the bottom of the road and would happily carry away any wayward boules, in the general direction of the town.
Playing across a pronounced slope with deep rain gullies running across and several tarmac/rocky areas was NOT EASY - it made the 'rougher' areas of the West Pier terrain look like a billiard table in comparison. At first, I thought it was more like Crazy Golf than petanque. Gradually I got the hang of it, carefully watching how the locals played the terrain. Playing downhill, down the gullies, required the boule to be virtually dropped, not thrown, just in front of you and watch it roll down the slope, hoping it would find either the right route down a gully or the right stone to stop it, before it continued on it's way - all the way to the drains.
Playing diagonally across the slope and gullies meant that you had to aim probably 3-5m away from the coche, such that the slope would take you in the general direction of the coche. Several times a boule would approach the coche, stop, but then continue down the slope, out of play. More skilful or a greater element of luck? Difficult to say - probably both, if this isn't a contradiction in terms. You needed to examine the terrain carefully, choose a suitable landing spot, taking into account the uphill, downhill or across the slope shot, plus the gullies. Sometimes a high-lob was the best shot, providing you had a soft landing spot, sometimes a rolling shot was better, the risk of hitting a stone being too great.
I've learnt NOT to claim to be a shooter when playing in France. Much better to point - if you do shoot a boule, the locals will be impressed - "a pointer who can shoot", usually, "L'anglais qui tire". They won't be impressed if you say you're a shooter and miss! While 99% of games are played 6-8m - anything longer almost causes an international incident and the circle will invariably be moved forward - we did have one end where the coche was at about 10m, the others weren't too keen to shoot at this distance and I had to shoot over another boule. My first shot missed but the second was a direct hit - to great applause from the other players and spectators.
Triples is definitely the preferred format, doubles only being resorted to if there aren't enough players to make up a triples team. I think if you were foolish enough to suggest playing "3 singles", you'd be instantly deported!
There was also a Boules Lyonnaise terrain next to the petanque terrain, also a Pelote terrain the other side. About the same number of players played "la Lyonnaise", some of whom would join the petanque players for a more leisurely game afterwards.
As in Provence, petanque is very much a social occasion and there is much theatrical banter and disputes - who's going to draw the circle, which direction to play in, how far to throw the coche, whether to shoot or point, commentary on every boule played, encouraging boules, "keep going, stop, STOP, turn, TURN, not too long, etc".
In summary, I had a very enjoyable time. I think my pointing improved somewhat, having to learn to play on such an uneven and sloping terrain. The weather was good, food excellent. A mon retour.
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