First Words — 03 July 2019
Remembrance of things pastis

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

There’s no cure for the summertime boules.

“I’m in town for a few days,’’ our old team captain, Dan, says after all these years. “Let’s get together and play some pétanque!”

I can translate. Or at least google.

“The game of boules, otherwise known as pétanque, is similar to Italian bocce. The French version is traditionally played with metallic balls on a dirt surface beneath plane trees, with a glass of pastis at hand.”

The story goes the game was invented by Napoleon’s soldiers, apparently with too much time, too many cannon balls and way too much pastis at hand. They picked up a few of the balls, chose up teams, tossed a wood chip a few feet away, then took turns trying to toss the ball as close to the chip as possible.

The team with the ball closest to the chip wins but – in the spirit of fraternité – everybody takes a drink of the aniseed-flavored liqueur in various stages of dilution, from mostly water to mostly pastis. If you choose the latter, many swear, your aim improves AND you actually feel the hair growing on your chest.

At least that’s how boules was explained to me in France.

It was fun, and, except for the cost of the boules, the pastis and the waxing to control the massive hair growth, not that expensive. It’s the perfect game for a long summer afternoon with friends.

And it was an easy sell to my friends here, too. No, not just because of the pastis. Because of the anachronisme.

I can translate.

“An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of persons, events, objects or customs from different periods of time.”

So we organized a juxtaposition of persons from work on a sandy surface beneath palm trees, where the object would be to throw metallic balls in the custom of Napolenonic soldiers without getting caught with a glass of pastis at hand by the park police.

And we loved it – we practiced boules long and hard that summer. So long and hard we started to get good at it. So long and hard we considered electrolysis.

Then we became aware we were not alone in our anachronisme.

There was a whole pétanque “scene” in South Florida, we learned. Mostly French Canadians, who came down in winter to play on our beaches because it was impossible to see their boules in snow.

We also heard a big French champagne company was organizing a pétanque tournament on South Beach. Pétanque with champagne instead of pastis? How was that going to work? Would all those bubbles throw off our boules?

But we took a chance and entered – playing against teams from several restaurants on South Beach that offered the big French company’s champagne on the menu.

And we started to win! Sending a team from one of the restaurants home after round one. Sending another team from another restaurant home after round two.

We were about to play for the championship when a man from the big French champagne company sidled up with a quiet request.

I can translate.

“You guys are doing great,’’ he said, “but we organized this event for the restaurants and you’re so good we’re afraid you’re going to beat them all.”

“So?” we said.

“So, how about you drop out and we give you a bottle of champagne?”

We were shocked. Shocked.

“We’d never take a dive for a bottle of champagne!” our co-captain, Greg, said. “How about one for each of us?”

So the tournament went on the way they’d wanted. And we went off to celebrate with our six bottles of champagne.

That was a long time ago, but as you look through this Summer Issue – full of good ideas for summer fun – don’t rule out trying something new. Keep an open mind, don’t rule out the unusual, even anachronistic, idea.

You may find there’s no cure for the summertime boules, too.

  • Mark Gauert,

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