Saturday, July 4, 2009

The boule is in our court

The game of boules or pétanque is very popular in France How popular, you ask? An estimated 17 million people play the game - and I think many of them use the court in front of our apartment. Now that sunny weather is here, we can open our window and hear the soft metallic clinks as the neighborhood elders play in the afternoon and evening.

The origins of the game go back to the Ancient Greeks in the 6th century BC. Back then it was tossing stones. The Ancient Romans added the twist of a 'target' (think horseshoes). Appparently the competition got heated when they brought the game to Provence and Italy because they added the step of measuring distances to keep score points.

By the Middle Ages, playing this game was the in thing to do. All of Europe was playing, although now with weighted wooden balls. Some people must have been a little obsessed and played it too much because in the 14th century the game was banned for commoners by kings Charles IV and later Charles V. But in the 17th century the ban was lifted and the boulistes were back at it.

Pétanque in its current form was developed in 1907. It is played in courtyards, squares, playgrounds and parks in every corner of towns and cities throughout France.

But if I may toot our local horn, boule lyonnaise was invented right here in Lyon. It's basically the same idea, but you get a little running start. That's right. We like our pétanque with a twist.

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