You need balls of steel to play this game, but don’t let that stop you.
Pétanque (pronounced pay-tonk) is played by millions of people around the world, especially in France where it’s a national pastime. Ask Christophe Descarpentries, owner/chef of P’tit Louis Bistro and rabid pétanque enthusiast. He and team partner Todd Haagenstad met over a backyard game on Derby Day in Kentucky. Descarpentries learned to play as a child in France and quickly imparted his obsession to Haagenstad.
At one tournament in Santa Fe, Descarpentries hung a banner proclaiming, “All you need is dirt, balls and a pig!” The balls, called boules, are made of metal and weigh between 650 to 800 grams. They come in various finishes and markings to distinguish one set of three boules from another. In addition to the boules, players need a wooden cochonnet (pronounced ko-show-nay) or piglet, a little smaller than a ping-pong ball, to use as a target. Beyond that, you need a patch of ground—dirt or gravel—about 13 by 40 feet. Onlookers note the similarity to the Italian game of bocce ball, which also derives from ancient Greek and Roman variations.
The game is simple. Two players or teams take turns throwing boules. The aim is to land closer to the cochonnet than your opponent. At the end of a round, you add up points for the team whose boules are closest to the cochonnet. You play as many rounds as it takes for one team to reach 13—the winning point.
In November 2011, Descarpentries played at a tournament at Amelia Island, Florida, where he made friends with 7-time La Marseillaise champion Marco Foyot who gave him a set of boules stamped with the Foyot moniker. The Marseillaise is the most prestigious pétanque competition in the world, drawing nearly thirteen thousand participants from twenty-five countries annually.
And Descarpentries’ enthusiasm is contagious enough that The Rio Rancho Oktoberfest is framing this year’s festivities around the La Mesa Pétanque Club’s tournament on September 28–29, 2013. Oktoberfest founders Dana Koller and Rachel Dollens look forward to hosting the event, which will feature a 40,000 sq. ft. field for as many as 200 players. There are plans for a Friday pétanque clinic with none other than Marco Foyot. And early this morning, Descarpentries received confirmation from Buenos Aires that the Argentine team is ready to play. Excitement is building.
So the next time you see a clutch of people staring at a nest of silver balls on the ground—check it out. You might find yourself training to play with champions.