It was an unlikely situation. Tom had decided that he was going to participate in the annual Bourdeilles Petanque Tournament. His first choice for partner was on vacation, his second choice had to work. The next thing I knew he was saying “I know exactly who should be my partner - you.” A million excuses passed through my mind, but because love has it’s sway I found my mouth saying “sure, why not”. Even though the “why” would be that I am not competitive, have no athletic talents and play petanque once or twice a summer, when the only thing keeping me balanced with a heavy petanque ball in one hand is the beer in the other.
So it was with a twisted feeling in my stomach and the flush of shame already on my cheeks that we walked over to the village petanque courts, the graveled area under the canopy of the mulberry trees trimmed expressly to give maximum shade for this one day of the year.
The poster had said that the tournament started at 2:00, but on our prompt arrival (lingering Americanism) there was only one woman sitting at a table with a very large chart in front of her. She happily signed us in and placed us as #1 on the chart. #1 stickers went on our chest. Either a good sign or just a sign that the Greenhorns had arrived.
We warmed up a little, we sat around a lot, we watched some really good players warm up, I got more and more embarrassed and we weren’t even in the thick of it yet.
Finally, at 3:30 it was time to play. Team #1 was to play team #38, veterans who knew not to arrive on time and languish in the heat of the afternoon sun.
Turns out we had to play at least three matches to legitimaize any possible (probable?) elimination. But flush from an outstanding win I started to feel a little bit of competitive adrenaline. Plus, even in defeat, those #38-ers had been so nice. They had been humble and easy to chat with. We found out later they just happen to be in Bourdeilles on vacation from Belgium. They ended up staying in the tournament for at least 5 more rounds.
We gathered at the bar to grab a beer and watched the real players have at it. Increasingly the sounds of friendly conversation were replaced by just the roll and clack of the petanque balls. Tape measures flashed in the late afternoon sun. There was no chance two men and a baby were out there under the mulberry trees.
We’d long since headed off to the village potluck dinner with our newly met neighbors when teams #45 - #60 finished their ultra competitive, silent (but for some swearing) matches.