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Pétanque au Parc: A (Free!) French Pastime in Midtown

May 28, 2012

If you’ve spent some time in France, you may have heard of Pétanque, a traditional summer vacation game and national pastime in the “boule” family of sports. For the unacquainted, it’s a cousin of the more familiar Bocce you might play at family barbecues (or at least at mine).

I’d long heard about the tribe of Pétanque enthusiasts camped out at Bryant Park (Time Out NY routinely lists in their “100 things to do” compilations), and two girlfriends in town and a gorgeous Memorial Day Monday created the perfect excuse to go take a peek.

Our guru Bruce assuming the position

We got far more than a peek. We got a full schooling in the sport and spent a few hours honing our newly acquired skills playing side by side with professionals.  The local Pétanque club – La Boule New Yorkaise – is part of the international consortium of Pétanque clubs and has a standing presence at the northwest corner of Bryant Park (42nd and 6th). Stop by from 11-6 Monday – Friday for a free lesson on the rules and to take on fellow New Yorkers in a few games free of charge.  Sounds like the perfect half-day summer Friday activity to me.

Tristram shows us the ropes in Bryant Park

The roots of Pétanque can be traced back to ancient Greece. The sport became a favorite of French society in the 17th century, and has since spread to Francophone and non-Francophone countries alike. At Bryant Park, our club member hosts Tristram and Bruce showed us the basics:

It can be played by 2 teams of one, two or three players. From a small circle drawn on one side of the field, a small target ball (the “cochonnet”) is tossed onto the terrain, and each team member has a certain number of heavy metal balls for play. Typically, a player will aim to “point” the ball (pointer in French) by getting it closer to the cochonnet or “shoot” (tirer) – aiming to take the other team’s ball out of the picture. While throwing a ball, the player’s feet must not step out of the circle OR lift off the ground.  During play, the team that does NOT have the ball closest to the cochonnet must keep playing until it gets the closest ball or runs out of balls. When all balls have been thrown, the team with the ball closest to the cochonnet scores one point for each ball closer than the closest ball of the opponent. The first team to score 13 points wins. Catch all that?

Who’s closer? Very serious measuring happening.

After playing a round on our own (and feeling pretty proud of ourselves), we paired up with Tristram and Bruce, and quickly learned how strategic and complex a game this could be. They helped us analyze the hills and depressions in the terrain, determine when to shoot and when to point to put our opponents at a disadvantage, and adjust our form to hit a precise location.

We heart Petanque too!

While we thought we were completely nul (i.e. awful), our hosts encouraged us to become members and participate in the casual tournaments that the league organizes. Not ready to try your hand?  Observing the action can be just as fun, and the club hosts a number of tournaments for players at various levels throughout the summer. For more info, check out for location and event details. Also stay tuned for Bastille Day activities, which includes the largest tournament in North America, according to Time Out NY.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2012 5:24 am

    haha, you’re using this blog as an excuse to be a frenchy nerd! 🙂 An ewww, my eyes still hurt everytime I read “Bastille Day”! Why can’t you Americans call it 14th of July like your 4th of July? 🙂

  2. May 31, 2012 5:16 pm

    Nice post! I love watching Pétanque but have never played (perhaps I’d consider it in NYC, but much too intimidating in France)…

    • June 2, 2012 5:36 pm

      Thanks Catherine – I love your photos! I’d be terrified to play in France too, but luckily the scene at Bryant Park is very low key. =)

  3. June 2, 2012 11:59 am

    I love Bryant Park and watching people playing Petanque and chess! As a French girl, Petanque is really a synonym of vacations!
    You should be ready now to register for the famous Petanque contest happening on Bastille Day in Brooklyn!

    • June 2, 2012 6:33 pm

      I would need ALOT more practice for that! But maybe I’ll try my hand when I’m back in France for vacation in September. I haven’t been to the Brooklyn Bastille Day celebrations though so I’m looking forward to checking it out!

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