Boules, Buddhists and chicken soup

By Joe Joseph, August 27, 2009

I read this week that the French have become so rowdy when playing pétanque that they have sought religious guidance from a Buddhist master on how to tame the alcohol-fuelled brawls that are disrupting the tranquility of France’s national pastime.

But how come they turned for guidance to a Buddhist master, rather than to a rabbi?

Naturally, it’s a shock to hear that the world of pétanque — or boules, as it’s also known — is becoming more boisterous in the first place.

Not that it could possibly have become any more sedate: the French have chosen for their national sport a game so unathletic you’d have to play it for 642 days on the trot before you’d register any impact on a weight-loss exercise regime. Especially since an integral part of pétanque is sipping from a glass of pastis, the aniseed-flavoured liqueur so beloved of the French.

Actually, it’s the effect of all that pastis that’s been giving boules such a bad name. The Pétanque Federation has told players to go easy on the pastis and be civil. To help them do this, the French have sought help from Maître Kaisen, a Buddhist master who runs a temple in the Dordogne. His book, The Spirit of Pétanque, has catapulted him to fame as boules players embrace his advice on how combining meditation and boules can improve accuracy and self-control, both on court and in life.

“If pétanque is practised in a just frame of mind, it can help you to grow,” he tells them.

Fair enough. But is that so much better a piece of advice than a rabbi could offer?

I mean, who better to advise on the art of picking a genteel argument just for the sake of it, and wholly unprompted by alcohol, than a Jew? With a rabbi to guide them, boules players could have arguments that are so engaging (“You think the apple is a better fruit than the orange? Are you mad? Hilda, come and listen to what my crazy brother-in-law is saying here about apples!”), that pretty soon they’d stop bothering to interrupt their animated Friday-night discussions on the boules court with regular breaks to pitch those heavy steel balls and just spend all evening squabbling instead. Next thing you know, they would be swapping the pastis for chicken soup, and their baguettes for challas.

You see how neatly it would work? Boules players could still argue, but it would become a virtue rather than a vice.

Still doesn’t solve the problem of making them fit, though.

Joe Joseph is a writer for The Times

Last updated: 11:21am, August 27 2009