21 August 2007

Plinko + Kerplunk = Petanque

[8/17/07 UNIV. OF ANTANANARIVO Dear John, Eyes gazing intensely over a rectangular gravel court, the petanque player crouches in the center of red mini-hula-hoop – sized for someone like Cindy Loo Hoo or Nicole Ritchie. Metal ball in hand, palm facing down, she swings her arm back and then steadily forward. Release. The ball sails through the air – sometimes flying as high as the tops of nearby flag poles – and lands near a back of others with a “petanque.” Television cameras follow the ball through the sky. When it lands, a patter of clapping comes from the stadium seating.

Welcome to the bizarre and obsessive world of petanque (pronounced pay-tunk) at the Island Games in Madagascar. This country is full of petanque-heads, and, after watching the game for a few hours, I still have no idea why. It’s bocci ball, dude, except the balls are two shades of metal – shiny and not-so-shiny – instead of different colors. This belongs at a BBQ, not the regional Olympics.

The point of the game is simple: is to toss your teams balls close to a small green ball, which is the target, or the “jack.” But these people, and their backers on petanque.org, take that task to uber-serious degrees. Here is a suggested warm-up exercise from petanque.org (they're way to professional for .com):

“Warm Up. Roll 2 boules (that’s “balls” in French) around the palm of your hand. Rotate shoulders, throw a few gentle shots. Don’t start cold and a 10m shot!”

10 meter shots. Phew.

I made a few friends at the petanque tournament. The first was a young woman (don’t know her name) who plays petanque for the University of Antananarivo’s team. Yes, really, they have a team. I met her a her boyfriend while I was wandering around the university, looking for the petanque match. The problem with my approach: I had forgotten the name of the game. The night before, I had taken to jokingly calling it Plinko (from The Price is Right ... who is the new host, by the way?) and Kerplunk (from 1980s living coffee tables).

Our conversation, in French mind you:

“Do you know where the Island Games are?” I asked.
“Oh, of course. Which game?” she said.
“Ummm, I don’t know the name exactly … there are tiny balls… I think it’s called tuk-tuk?”

She died laughing.

“OK, we’re going there,” she said.
Apparently tuk-tuk is the word for cracker here. All the way to the courts they were speaking in Malagasy and laughing. “Jibba jabba jibba jabba… tuk tuk … HAHAHAHA!” I’m always here to entertain …

Love, John
PS: petanque.com also has postcards. Some a really hilarious.]

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