A Sunshine Sport

I’ve found my sport.

Now, I’m not particularly athletic as people go. I tried hard in school, filling my lunch breaks and after-school hours with whatever sporting activities were on offer. I generally grasped the theory pretty quickly, and with it, the technique, so I usually made a good start with new sports. However, my aptitude more or less ended there, because I never seemed to particularly improve with practice – no matter how much I did practice. However good I was when I started out was generally how good I stayed, and that was that. I enjoyed Games and Athletics, and I did well enough at them – I intermittently played for the school in hockey and rounders, and my ‘personal best’ in discus was one of the highest in my year – but I was never going to be one of the ‘sporty girls’. I just wasn’t made for it. 

I’m also not a fan of running around in any kind of heat, which, admittedly, isn’t generally a problem in the UK, but we have been known to have warm-ish days now and again (she writes, the day after Britain’s hottest April day in 70 years or so) and I have attempted to play tennis and engage in other similarly lively pursuits on some of these warmish days – and it never goes well for me. I overheat like that (*snaps fingers for emphasis*), to the point where I can hear my pulse in my head and I have to sit down very quickly before I fall instead, and concerned friends, family and random passers-by feel the need to comment on my sudden resemblance to a beetroot. Which obviously makes me feel much better about the whole situation.

HOWEVER. The French have a sport which does not pose any of these problems for the heat-sensitive amongst us – owing to the fact that one never has to accelerate beyond a gentle stroll to play. In fact, most of a match is spent standing still. The most strenuous part involves throwing a heavy-ish ball, a little larger than a tennis ball, a few metres in front of you. You’re not even allowed to do a run-up.

Yep, pétanque is the sport for me.

Admittedly, it doesn’t do a whole lot from a calorie-burning/muscle-building perspective. But it is very sociable, owing to the (lack of) pace of the game. If you’re familiar with boules, as I know a lot of British people are anyway, pétanque follows a very similar concept: a little ball (the “cochonnet”, or jack) is cast first and then players throw or roll larger hollow steel balls, aiming to get as close to the jack as possible. There are various other rules involved, but that’s the basic idea. At least in the UK, boules is pretty much exclusively reserved for the beach, but pétanque is played all over the place, with designated “pistes” (dusty/gravelly rectangles for playing pétanque on) available in most (as far as I can see anyway) parks and village squares – especially in the South of France, where the game originated.

There are plenty of these pistes to be found up here in Paris too, though – and it was to one of these, over the road from the office on the edge of a little park, where a handful of my colleagues and I headed after work yesterday. What better way to profit from the magnificent weather? Certainly, this must be the only sport I could have played for over an hour and a half in 29 degree heat. Turns out I’m actually fairly good at it too – who’d have thought it?

We could have gone on longer as well, only for the irresistible call of the many restaurant terrasses, spilling out onto the pavements with people revelling in the sunshine. We settled on a little Italian place, particularly popular with the office for its proximity (right around the corner), prices (very reasonable), and pizza (superb).  Skating in just before 8pm, we managed to catch the Happy Hour with less than ten minutes to spare (happy indeed!) and the rest of the evening was spent chatting and bantering in the warm evening air, stars slowly appearing overhead as the sun set, and cold pints of refreshing, lemon-tinged blonde in hand.

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