Having left Brighton nearly a year ago for the lovely small Mediterranean port of La Ciotat, Ray Ager gives us an account of his year of pétanque.
“Upon arriving in La Ciotat, the birthplace of pétanque, it very quickly became apparent that I was at very best, an ‘average’ player here. There were two major factors:
- The terrains
- The standard of play
La Ciotat has two clubs, Jules le Noir, where the game started and Le Cercle des Boulomanes. There is a third area, Le Lido, not a club but a public area where groups of players meet every day to play. There is also a fourth terrain, Le Logis de Provence, where again players meet and there is a weekly mêlée.
The terrains are rock hard, baked by the fierce sun and each terrain is different. Jules le Noir is a varied terrain, some parts fairly smooth, some quite stony, some parts sloping. Les Boulomanes is a smoother terrain, more suited to le Jeu Provençal—more later—but also has sloping areas. Here an uncontrolled boule will continue rolling for an embarrassingly long distance…
Le Lido is probably the most challenging terrain I’ve ever played on. Again varied, some smooth sections but most of it very uneven and full of stones, tree roots, drain covers, etc, full of traps for the uninitiated. Le Logis de Provence is also a very stony terrain.
The first thing that impressed me was how accurate and how consistent the good pointers were. You might think you played a good boule, 20cm from the jack—but the good pointers would consistently beat it. As a generalization, the better players tend to lob their boules but on the smoother terrains, many of the good pointers will roll. Shooting again, very impressive—it seems like the really good shooters rarely miss a shot.
Although the smoother terrains lend themselves to rolling shots, à la rafle, the purists really don’t like this and most will shoot boule to boule, au fer. I’d always known that I had a problem with my shooting technique but here it became very apparent. Whereas in Brighton, a shot in front will often hit the target boule, here anything short simply bounces over. 99% of my shots landed short and 100% of them bounced over the target boule!
So I had to work on my pointing and shooting. With pointing, I’ve had to work very hard to learn to get much better control of the boule: more souplesse — rather than ‘heavy-handed’ shots — much more gentle shots, more backspin and always trying to play in front of the jack – boule devant, boule d’argent.
With shooting, again, much more souplesse, a gentle lob, landing on the boule, rather than a hard shot to hit the boule. I have found it very difficult to unlearn the ingrained habits. When I do it right, I can shoot effectively but I’m very irregular and easily slip back into the old ways, unless I remember to concentrate on every single shot.
I have always believed that coaching is an important part of the game. I now believe more than ever that having good coaching and getting the basics right are absolutely essential for anybody wishing to play well.
Gradually I’ve improved and I can now ‘hold my own’ in most games. I’ve won quite a few of the consolante (Plate) competitions and a couple of times the Main concours.
There is also a big difference in the culture or mentalité of the players. Many are fiercely competitive, verycritical of any poor play, and arguments and flare-ups are pretty regular!
Le Jeu Provençal [à la longue] is still regularly played here. Played from 15 – 21m, players take one step out of the circle to point and three running steps to shoot. Shooting is on the run and is much harder than pétanque. Games take a much longer time and because shooting is so hard, it’s a mainly pointing game. I’ve played a few times but prefer pétanque, probably because it’s the game I’m used to but I do find pétanque a more dynamic game of attack/defense. To use a cricketing analogy: pétanque is like a 20-20 match, whereas le Jeu Provençal is like a 5-day test match!
Hope to see some of you in La Ciotat – all for now.
À la prochaine!”