Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bourdeilles Petanque Tournament

It was an unlikely situation. Tom had decided that he was going to participate in the annual Bourdeilles Petanque Tournament. His first choice for partner was on vacation, his second choice had to work. The next thing I knew he was saying “I know exactly who should be my partner - you.” A million excuses passed through my mind, but because love has it’s sway I found my mouth saying “sure, why not”.  Even though the “why” would be that I am not competitive, have no athletic talents and play petanque once or twice a summer, when the only thing keeping me balanced with a heavy petanque ball in one hand is the beer in the other.

So it was with a twisted feeling in my stomach and the flush of shame already on my cheeks that we walked over to the village petanque courts, the graveled area under the canopy of the  mulberry trees trimmed expressly to give maximum shade for this one day of the year.
The poster had said that the tournament started at 2:00, but on our prompt arrival (lingering Americanism) there was only one woman sitting at a table with a very large chart in front of her. She happily signed us in and placed us as #1 on the chart. #1 stickers went on our chest. Either a good sign or just a sign that the Greenhorns had arrived.
We warmed up a little, we sat around a lot, we watched some really good players warm up, I got more and more embarrassed and we weren’t even in the thick of it yet.
Finally, at 3:30 it was time to play. Team #1 was to play team #38, veterans who knew not to arrive on time and languish in the heat of the afternoon sun.

We found an uncrowded area in the large, sunny parking lot and got right to it. Let the rumpus begin. And suddenly we had the first point, then 5 points and within 10 minutes we had won the match 13 to 6. What the heck!! There were worse players than me - or was this just beginners luck?

Turns out we had to play at least three matches to legitimaize any possible (probable?) elimination. But flush from an outstanding win I started to feel a little bit of competitive adrenaline. Plus, even in defeat, those #38-ers had been so nice. They had been humble and easy to chat with. We found out later they just happen to be in Bourdeilles on vacation from Belgium. They ended up staying in the tournament for at least 5 more rounds.

The second match was against a couple from Bourdeilles, folks that live just up the road but we had not met before. They handily beat us in about the same 10 minutes that we had won in earlier. The beginners luck was rubbing off. Tom stopped trying to remember the words for the Star Spangled Banner in his anticipation of the medal ceremony. With plenty of time before the next match we took a break to find out more about our newly met neighbors. My twisted stomach was forgotten. This was actually turning out to be fun. People were chatting and laughing, swearing and even already drinking a beer or two.

Looking around at all the animated people I knew what this was all about. The point for most of us at this tournament was a fun afternoon with friends and neighbors. A way to spend a summer afternoon with folks you might not see normally. Not the cut throat silent competition of deadly careening solid steel projectiles that I had envisioned.

Our third match was played against two charming young men and a baby. Yep, dad had to mind the child if he was going to be gone all afternoon. His friend was easy going with the child as well and I was completely distracted by this beautiful baby girl. The match was longer than 10 minutes, but not by much. Tom and I held our own for a while, but three games was going to be enough and why take the chance of encountering any of the serious teams that were beginning to emerge around us.

We gathered at the bar to grab a beer and watched the real players have at it. Increasingly the sounds of friendly conversation were replaced by just the roll and clack of the petanque balls. Tape measures flashed in the late afternoon sun.  There was no chance two men and a baby were out there under the mulberry trees. 

We’d long since headed off to the village potluck dinner with our newly met neighbors when teams #45 - #60 finished their ultra competitive, silent (but for some swearing) matches.

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