It all started with that mysterious, curious and uniquely French past time called Pétanque. For the Provençal this is the game of the gods. Fiercely competitive, requiring extreme skill and most of all, you must be French to play it (at least that’s what the people in Provence claim). Fortunately, for Paul Shore, his wonderful Canadian demure gave him the ability to break through the ice and find a local to help him master this age-old past time and in his book, Uncorked – My Year in Provence Studying Pétanque, Discovering Chagall, Drinking Pastis, and Mangling French, he recants the tale of his time spent living in a small village in Provence, and the humorous trials and tribulations he encountered there while trying to learn the “game of the gods”.
Join Paul on his journey as he invites you to meet the colorful and charming locals, all the while trying to master this uniquely, French game.
And you thought this was going to be about wine, didn’t you?
Author: Paul Shore
Format: Kindle and Paperback
Where to Buy: Amazon.com
As Paul’s story unfolds, we get a very detailed description of Pétanque and what the game is all about, including the rules, strategy and the art of play (and yes, this game is art). He also provides us with some nifty French lingo in relation to the sport. So, not only do you get to learn the game, but you get to learn some French words, as well!
He also tells us how and why he came to live in this very unique corner of the world and his topsy-turvy time from stepping off the plane in Nice, to arriving in the little village he would call home. Little did he know that his choice of a small, quaint, picturesque village, was actually a tourist mecca in the summer, but it was also home to a warm and lovable character who would become a great friend and who was to take on the huge responsibility of tutoring him in the art of Pétanque.
The village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence
I was immediately jealous of the fact that Paul was lucky enough to make his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. I distinctly remember my first visit to this village. It was as if I had stepped onto a movie set. Gorgeous, old buildings, cobble stone streets, quaint boutiques, and an impressive view. This place was exactly what comes to mind when you think of Provence. Living here would be like living in a picture book.
Throughout the story, Paul weaves into it the details of the village, the colorful characters he encounters, the curiosity of being the “outsider” trying to find his place and the increasing love he has for all that is Provence. It is in this village that Paul first encounters the game of Pétanque and decides that no matter what, he was going to learn the game, even if he didn’t meet the two major requirements: being over 40 and being French.
It is here that he meets the people that will become an intricate part of his life. From Colette, who teaches French to expats, and who was the first person who Paul confided in about wanting to learn how to play Pétanque; to Adele, the woman who owns an art gallery and schools him on the art of art; to Pierre, the most debonair man-about-village, we get to see the inner workings of the people and the village and the downright hilarious happenstances that continuously come about while Paul lives there.
But it is one of the villagers, named Hubert, who becomes the closest confidant of Paul because it is he who takes on the “difficult” task of becoming the sponsor who will teach Paul how to play that all important game of Pétanque.
Paul’s wonderful humor and whit as he describes learning the sport, brings such a heartwarming and charm to the story. His description of trying to ask Hubert to sponsor him, of trying to buy his very own Pétanque balls and of his very first, all important, real game is filled with such genuine charm that you can’t help but root for him from beginning to end.
From the start, Hubert is not having any of it because Paul is not French, and therefore, couldn’t possibly be a candidate to play. Through Paul’s persistence, and his ability to pull off an exceptional accomplishment in the village, he impresses Hubert to the point that he eventually decides to take him under his wing and teach him the game, but under one circumstance that Paul will just have to deal with!
Going through the motions of learning the rules and regulations of the sport and which player he will be, the pointeur or the tireur, is a crucial thing for Paul as he continues to hone his skills. By the end of his learning curve, and ours, we’ve all managed to find out the history of the game, that there is a proper way to unpack the balls, what each of them are called, and that the game is just as much of a mind game as a skill game. How getting inside the head of your opponent, and under their skin, can tip the odds in your favor.
But there is one more, all important step to take: you must have your own set of balls.
The art of buying balls
Paul’s encounter of buying his very own set of Pétanque balls, kept me smiling. This chapter was so funny and so characteristically “French” that I laughed out loud for quite some time. I felt like I was there, with him, while he hilariously manages to get his point across to the lady in the Pétanque store who spoke no English.
The pride of how the French feel about their national past time really comes through as Genevieve takes Paul around her store to explain the origins of Pétanque, all the while showing him her collections of historical Pétanque items. I’ve made a mental note to go to this shop the next time I am in the area because it sounded so fascinating and I would love to see the little Pétanque museum portion that is inside.
Upon leaving the store with a beaming, smile of pride and his own personal set of balls, I found myself giving him a virtual pat on the back for a job well done.
If there is one chapter in this book that brought “laugh tears” to my eyes it’s the one that references that famous beverage, Canada Dry. Paul’s description of one of the games that wasn’t going just right for him had me in uncontrollable giggles. At one point, both my husband and daughter came in the room asking what the heck I was laughing about (since I was all by myself), and the only words I could manage to get out between my bouts of laughter were, Canada Dry, and then I would revert right back into laughing again.
For obvious reasons, I cannot give anything away, but I guarantee that you will be laughing too, once you have read it! Let’s just say that the words Canada Dry now mean something totally different to me!
Showing off your skills
As Paul is bettering his skills of play, he gets to participate is some games, the first one being with some high-ranking officials. As time moves on and the seasons come and go, he becomes pretty good at the sport and gets invited to play in many games with the locals. This not only impresses Paul, but also the locals and most importantly, Hubert, who goes from being a skeptic teacher to a proud one. For Paul, proving his worthiness to play the game is an important aspect for him. I wondered throughout the book whether this was the major driver which got him to work so hard at learning the game, or if it was simply his curiosity in the beginning that got the better of him and was the real proponent.
In either case, or both, by the end of the book Paul has reached a milestone. His year in Provence proved to be an eye-opener in so many ways. He gained insight into another culture, another way of living, he made friends, he learned the joie de vivre, and most importantly he learned how to play Pétanque.
As with any move, the ups and downs, happy times and stressful times are a big part of it. As anyone can imagine, a move to a new country would increase these ten-fold and Paul is no less affected.
The charm and affinity for which he writes about his little, cave-like apartment, the gorgeous colors that fill the Provençal countryside, and his work to improve his French skills are just some of the few things that makes you want to hop on a plane and move to Provence.
Then there are the real culture shock experiences that he tells about and they will have you shaking your head in disbelief and saying, run, run, far away! He writes of the wonderful two hour long lunches that you would, in theory, love to enjoy to its fullest except that everything is closed so you can’t get any errands done during that time. Maybe they expect you to be playing Pétanque!
He also writes about the inefficiencies with which life happens in Provence. Whether it be buying items and having them shipped to him incomplete so he can’t do a project, a promised rental car that ended up not being available, French drivers (I need not say more about that!), crazy village roads, or of him trying to rent a place and get a bank account, he is able to so vividly describe life in this part of the country and how difficult it can be.
From first hand experience, I can tell you that all of these things would make you pull your hair out in frustration and yet, you can’t help but be drawn in by this place. It grabs you, and holds you, and you find that all those things that drive you crazy don’t hold a candle to the things that make you love it.
What is a good book to read?
By the end of the book, Paul has been charmed in a way that only someone could be by spending a good deal of time in this part of France. He accomplished a great deal in his one year in Provence and he manages to charm us along the way. If I didn’t live here already, I would be making plans to move now!
The endearing phrases, the way he recalls his time spent in Provence, his love of the game of Pétanque and the charming people he meets along the way make Uncorked, My Year In Provence, Discovering Chagall, Drinking Pastis, and Mangling French a great book to read. You will not be disappointed! So pick up a glass of your favorite Provençal wine and enjoy yourself with this heartwarming tale.