FOUR COWBOYS OF LE PUY NOTRE DAME AND A GAME OF LA BOULE DE FORT
When we arrived in Le Puy Notre Dame, which seems many years ago now, I often passed “le Société des Arts”, normally when I was en-route to the bar. Now, I am not adverse to a bit of art and culture but neither did I want to hang around like a spare part while people painted, sculpted and discussed how much formaldehyde it took to pickle a shark or how much detritus you could arrange, ( artistically of course), on an unmade bed. So I gave it a wide berth. However I was eventually informed that the “Art” bit was actually short for Artisan, in other words it was a Working Mens Club. After this refreshing bit of information I called in one day when Chez Sonia was closed and found, not budding Damien Hirsts or Jackson Pollocks but everyone who I normally passed the time with in the bar. Wine and beer is very cheap, annual membership is a couple of Euros and inside was a court for playing “Les Boules de Fort”. Boule de Fort is a game rather like boules itself, which anyone who knows anything about France will know about. But it is played on an indoor court which is “U” shaped in profile so that the ball doesn’t go in a straight line but progresses down the court in a series of sinuous curves, first rolling up one side and then the other until it finishes close to the small target boule, “le Maitre”. It is decidedly addictive.
Anyway le Société or le Soc – for short, is now a regular part of life and many a happy hour has been spent there.
The scene now shifts to our friend Marcel who, after having taken early retirement, passes the bulk of his time making movies. He rang one day and asked if he could ask me a question. “Yes”, said I, “of course”. “Have you got a leather coat?” “Yes”, I replied cautiously, I have known Marcel too long not to know when he’s building up to something. “How about a cowboy hat”? “Funnily enough, no”, I replied. ” That’s ok, I’ve got one” was the next cryptic comment. “Good, I’m very happy for you”. I retorted, determined not to crack first and ask what the hell he was banging on about. “What about boots, cowboy boots? “No, sorry”, I admitted. “Mmmm…never mind, can’t be helped”, he murmured. “Yes, c’est la vie”, I added. Slight pause, and then he came clean. He was doing a film on Le Puy Notre Dame and wanted a jokey ending so he’d dreamed up this idea of a high-noon shootout. Four dangerous looking cowboys meet in the village and then walk, with murderous intent down to the Societé des Arts where they enter into a winner take all game of boule de fort. ” So can you meet me in the Société at 1400hrs?”. asked Marcel. “Certainly” I replied, “Who are the others?” He told me the names of two people I didn’t know and Robert, who lives opposite. “And by the way” said Marcel, “You need to be chewing gum”. I asked if cowboys always chew gum. Apparently, they do.
At five minutes to two I left the house and walked to the appointed rendezvous with Robert who, amazingly, had dug up a pair of cowboy boots from somewhere. No, I didn’t ask. The day was weird enough already. We met Marcel who shoved a battered, straw sun-hat on my head and gave me a stick of chewing gum. We then stalked into the boules court, carefully arranged in height, smallest first. We then chose our boules and stood still for a moment looking terrifyingly menacing, (just for the camera, you understand). Then onto the game itself and guess who won? Why me of course. Although I’ve absolutely no idea how, given the fact that I don’t know the rules and that my first three boules thudded into the end-boards with enough force to shake the three steeples of the nearby church.
Then onto the section of the film which will appear first which is when we are are leaning on appropriate stone walls around the church looking mean, chewing gum, (I was pretending as I’d swallowed mine in giving a shout of joy when I smashed Robert’s boule away from the Maitre), and waiting for high noon. We then walked four abreast down the rue to the Société looking very serious and with a “this town ain’t big enough for all of us” mindset, all it needed was some tumbleweed and a passing stagecoach. A passing tractor pulling a trailer full of some anonymous animal manure didn’t really have the same effect. Marcel had even managed to get a mutual friend, Bernard, to run around with “No Entry” signs so that no passing traffic disturbed his filming. Of course it was actually counter productive as it caused more delay as everyone stopped their cars/tractors/vans, got out and asked what was going on.
So then to the bar to discuss the days artistic achievement although I was quite disappointed that I wasn’t plied with free drinks being the undisputed winner. I’ll post a link to the film when Marcel has finished the editing.
Just one postscript: Marcel rang later and said that he though the game lacked some crowd participation so would Sheila meet him in the Societé to play the important roll of “the crowd”. This she did and each throw of a boule was interdispersed with a shot of Sheila showing various examples of emotion or, as I prefer to call it, pulling faces!!
Although less majestic than the mighty chateaux, the half hidden boule de fort in the village, gives you an idea of the real Anjou, the people who live here, who work here, and who play here, well away from the tourist hotspots.
The game has been designated a “Loire Heritage Game” by the Ministry of Culture and I raise my glass of rosé, (Cabernet de Saumur of course not Cabernet d’Anjou), to the beautiful Loire and to ‘La boule de Fort’ and to a new friendly rivalry, (although not friendly on camera, of course).
La Boule de Fort is a typical Angevin sport and just one of the memorable experiences enjoyed by many and one which are regular guests have yet to experience so, for those of you returning this year, it is something to look forward to not to mention the cheap wine.