If you’ve never heard of pétanque that’s one more reason to pick up Uncorked, Whistlerite Paul Shore’s new book about his year living in the small French town of Saint-Paul de Vence.
There are a few other reasons to dive into the book too, all of which will broaden your cultural understanding of France and perhaps yourself. Read on if: you’ve never heard of Saint-Paul de Vence, Chagall, patis or you have no idea what vernissage etiquette is.
If the above is true then you are just as prepared as Shore was when he found himself being assigned to Nice, France in 1999 for, as his boss said, “an indefinite amount of time.”
Thus began Shore’s unplanned year-long stint in the French Riviera. Armed with only one year of high school French and the romantic desire to live in a small town, Shore found himself, at 32 years of age, alone and isolated in a town minimally tolerant of its tourists.
“I was looking (for a place to live) in the middle of winter,” he said. “I didn’t have much time, only a week, and when I told some of my colleagues in Nice (where I was going to live) they said ‘Are you crazy?’ It was like coming to Whistler in the shoulder season and not realizing you’ve chosen a town that’s famous. And then I got a rude awakening, that I was a square peg in a round hole. My French was terrible, and it got really lonely.”
It’s here that Shore begins his narration, diving into the crux of his isolation and where that led him: to pétanque, the Provençal game of boules.
“You could say bocce but if you said that to a French man he would show you the door,” said Shore.
Shore would sit and watch the players, mostly men, as they rolled steel balls across the sandy streets of the village square.
“I like games of coordination and I was determined I would find a way to play,” said Shore.
When Shore befriended his neighbour Hubert and asked him to teach him pétanque, Hubert blew air in his face.
“The message being delivered was, ‘that’s so ridiculous a statement that I won’t even utter a word. I’ll just blow in your face and I might be smoking a cigarette so it could be a smoke exhale.’”
Hubert’s reason was simple, but outrageous: Shore wasn’t French.
The game of pétanque became a metaphor for Shore’s journey into the French culture, as he was eventually taught under the cloak of darkness late at night, and through the game earned the respect and ultimately begrudged acceptance of the closed-off locals.
Shore’s book strives not only to entertain but also to inspire.
“It’s not just funny stories about playing pétanque and being verbally abused by French people,” said Shore. “One of the messages is about risk taking. If you put yourself out there and don’t take no for an answer some pretty amazing things can happen.”
Catch Shore at his book release and signing on Saturday (March 18) from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Armchair Books.
But to find out about patis, Chagall, and vernissage etiquette? You’ll have to read the book.