By Ted Herr
What if you could have all three at the same time?
Several times a week, a group of Mueller residents and their friends choose all three whenever they gather for a game of pétanque (pronounced “pay tonk”) at the Mueller Browning Hangar.
I had the opportunity to meet with four of them, including Mueller resident Gayla Slikas, who began playing after organizing the game online. Silkas and the other players explained the rules to me.
In pétanque, a player throws 1.5 pound metal boules (balls) underhanded towards a target about 20-33 feet away. The object is to have your boules end up closest to the “cochonnet.” One team of two players throws three boules each, or three players on a team throw two boules each.
Pétanque may sound familiar to some. In various European countries, there are similar games, such as bocce in Italy and lawn bowling in the United Kingdom.
One of the players at our meeting, Thierry Aisse, told me about the day he and his teammates beat a two-time world champion at a tournament in Dallas. He enthusiastically crowed that it was “the best day of my life.”
Aisse is known for his expertise and attention to detail. He works restoring French and antique furniture here in Austin, and is a Frenchman by birth. On the terrain, or playing court, he can play both roles in pétanque: a “pointer” and a “shooter.” A pointer, using a backspin, attempts to land his boule closest to the target cochonnet. The closest boules win points for the team. A shooter, on the other hand, attempts to use his shots to knock the opponents’ boules away from the target.
Pétanque is a team sport that originated over 100 years ago in France. On a recent Saturday, four friends met up to play pétanque as part of the Oput Pétanque Club. (“Oput,” they advised me, is an inside joke and stands for an off-color expression.)
The club that meets under the Mueller Hangar has been playing there for years. Jerry Plemons, one of the original Mueller residents, founded the neighborhood club and played.
There are also occasional games here in Mueller at Paggi Square (located off Robert Browning Street between Ruiz and Page Streets). In fact, the Heart of Texas Pétanque club even contributed to the design of the square.
The local club is affiliated with the Alliance Française of Austin. The local pétanque club meets formally every Thursday at 10:00 AM and Sundays at 3:00 PM, and also organizes less formal games several times a week. They say they welcome both new and experienced players.
The Alliance is also organizing special pétanque meetups the second and fourth Sundays of June, July, and August from 3:00-5:00 PM at the Mueller Hangar. Their website invitation says “come out and enjoy a favorite French past-time, enjoy food & drinks, and speak French with your Alliance Française friends & neighbors.”
Visit afaustin.org/sunday-ptanque for more information about these events.
The answer to the question “Which would you choose: friendship, a good time, or Pétanque?” is provided by player Peter Gray: ”About half of all my good friends are people I met through playing pétanque.”
For more information about pétanque, see the Wikipedia article at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pétanque