You must have seen it, in Spain and in France too. In cities, towns and villages.
Mainly groups of men, many younger, but usually middle aged and older, gathered round a pitch of sandy gravel hurling steel balls from one end to the other. Lots of noisy chatter, gesticulation, argument and passion.
What are they doing?
They are playing Pétanque (The French pronunciation also sometimes known as Boule) usually called Pétanque/Petanca in Spain.
This is an ancient game played since Roman times and throughout the Middle Ages. It has continually been developed since then. The game as we know it now, really came into being about hundred years ago in France. It has since spread throughout most of Europe. It has even reached the UK as part of pub sports.
The goal is to toss or roll hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (literally "piglet") or jack, while standing inside a circle or on a mat with both feet on the ground. The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel pitches.
We Brits are used to seeing our sort of equivalent - bowls - played on lush lawns of impeccable smoothness by players smartly dressed in white playing with great decorum.
But be prepared - Pétanque is a fun, Mediterranean, in-your-face, great way to socialise across all language and cultural barriers, drink some local wine, before or afterwards, and learn the cunning and devious strategies of great Petanque players who play to win! It’s not a hard game to play, even as a beginner, and your team-mates will help you to learn quickly.
Your opponents will also gladly offer advice that may, or may not, be helpful
How does it work, what do you do?
I play in a very welcoming club in the village of La Romana, about 40 kilometres inland from Alicante, Spain. There are about 50-60 players on Wednesday mornings. It is a multi-national club, predominately British with Spanish, Belgium and French members. You will play in teams of three, selected at random, from the members.
You each have three boules and try to get them all as close as possible to the jack. If your team are closer at any point in the game than the other team then you are ‘holding‘ meaning leading, and the other team has to get as many boules as possible closer than you - or - blast you out of the way by bombing to scatter your boules far and wide. The aim is to score a total of usually 11, but sometimes 9 or 7 points by the team with the closest number of boules to the jack at the end of each ’end’ - which means both teams have played 9 boules each.
Games lasts about 25 to 40 minutes and you play three games, So you have a couple of hours play with comments. laughter, protests, heated disagreements, tactical moves and fun.
Just try it. Meet more people, make some friends. You will wonder why it has taken you so long to play!
(The photos you can see were taken at a recent competition against a local club of mainly Belgium members).