Beloved Wife is not a sports fan. Actually, she detests almost all sports, especially team sports. She loathes football, finds baseball inexplicably boring, basketball does not exist in her lexicon, and she claims in public to hate hockey too, but after more than two decades of living with me she has become a closet, if quiet, New York Rangers fan. Probably Stockholm Syndrome.
This is a woman who has embraced a philosophy first introduced to me by a high school guidance counsellor many years ago: “Whenever I feel athletic I lie down until the feeling passes.” But it isn’t really the athletic part she hates, it is the competition; she swears she hates competition.
And so it was that today I heard her say words I never dreamed she would utter. More likely that I would hear her say, “Tom please drive roofing nails into my skull.” Instead she said, “Let’s go to the store, I want to buy petanque balls so I can practice.”
I’m sure it was her. I checked closely, and I’m certain it was her, but those sounds, those strange words emanating from her mouth were just so wrong. And yet, it was her. The lady wants to play petanque. I find myself saying it over and over to myself.
Petanque is played everywhere in France. It is, in a way, a national pastime. You can’t get a group of French folks together outside on a spring or summer day and not have someone decide it’s time to play petanque. Especially if there are adult beverages in hand, which of course there are, because it is France.
There are petanque courts everywhere, and you see them if you just know what to look for: rectangular, dirt or sand patches in people’s yards, in public spaces, often in small areas around town that aren’t used for anything else.
Petanque is played with metal balls that are rolled, tossed, or lobbed in an effort to get closest to a target ball, and, like shuffleboard, you can try to knock the other team’s balls out of the way. It is very similar to the Italian game of bocce, with which, being Italian and from New Jersey, I am well familiar. It is quite similar. There is much waving of arms, yelling and arguing, drinking of adult beverages, and, if you think no one is looking, cheating. Although, it appears the French game is a bit more subdued and honestly played than the Italian version. The mafia, after all, was Italian.
It turns out we have had a number of petanque experiences along the way and Karen, initially a reluctant participant, has become increasingly interested. Here in Luché there are petanque courts only a few steps from the apartment. On the 14th….what we call Bastille Day but the French just call the National Holiday… friends knocked on the door to tell us they were headed to the park to play petanque and we should join them. That, apparently, set the hook.
So, today we went shopping for balls. Shiny steel balls. Petanque balls. And, because she is a woman, even when targeting petanque balls, it could not be a surgical strike. Oh, no.
There they were, three shiny steel petanque balls in a nice zip-up canvas carrying case, with the necessary accessories. Ten euro, a slam dunk. I grabbed it.
“Perfect, babe.” Here, one set for you and one for me. Let’s get outta here.”
Next to the ten-euro balls, you see, was a display of petanque balls in a locked case like the ones that you see in the US to keep you from getting your hands on the razor blade cartridges. And on that display was a dazzling array of balls; some silver, some black, some with matte finishes, and with prices beginning at 40 euro and going up from there to close to 200 euro.
“Wait,” said she, and I knew what was about to happen. “Ooooh, this one is smaller!”
Yes it was. And it was black. And there were others, also lighter, and heavier, and different shades of black. We looked at them all. Several times each, she handling them individually, then two, one in each hand, then asking me to see which is lighter, and yadda yadda yadda.
“This one is lighter, isn’t it?”
“Oh, this one is smaller! It fits in my smaller hand, doesn’t it?”
“I think this one is even lighter, isn’t it?”
But to be absolutely certain, over she calls the Petanque Equipment Man, who hauls out a…swear ta God…a petanque ball scale, so she can see which is lighter. But the battery on the scale was dead, and it didn’t work, so he called over another guy who did the same thing we had just done–held one in each hand and closed his eyes to try to figure out which was lighter.
And when she finally, maybe, had perhaps decided on what she wanted, she called over the gentleman in charge of Petanque Equipment Sales, who hauled out the Petanque Ball Catalogue because that particular ball was out of stock.
We spent about 20 minutes in all, and when it was done she had placed an order for a set of petanque balls that cost 65 euro, wouldn’t be in for a couple of weeks, and I had to leave my phone number with him.
For a set of petanque balls.
For my wife.
I’m telling you, I can see it coming, like the headlight on a freight train highballing it down the tracks toward me on a dark night. This woman would make the perfect golfer. When she finally gets out there on the court, she’s going to blame her troubles on the equipment.