Tag Archives: Bisous

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM PETANQUE

Posted: August 1, 2020

Now it would be easy to think that I never leave En Plein Air, and that is largely true. But sometimes I do leave to get some exercise, and do some chores. During Covid 19 I am largely on the boat, on the marina slip or in the nearby park. I keep two really nifty and horrendously expensive fold up bikes on the boat, courtesy of a British couple who thought they could run out without paying their bill after a four-day weekend last year and forgot to take their bikes. I still smile at that bit of justice. So I get out on one of those sometimes.

Yesterday I was at the park beside the marina and playing Petanque with Ciera and it got me to reflecting how much that game is a metaphor for our current times. If you don’t know Petanque it is game played like the much better known ball game of Bocce. The scoring and many of the rules are the same but the key difference is that the Frenchman who came up with this fairly new (1910 ish) game thought of, in contrast to Bocce is that you don’t need a court. Bocce is played on a nice level court with little walls you can grace the ball off, and the predictable surface, and consistent width and length or court, makes playing it a skill. Watching talented Bocce players coax that ball around other balls on the way to its destination close to the little Cochonnet or Jack ball  is a thing of beauty.

And just to stay with Bocce for a minute the image below is a bit whimsical. When I was in Key West visiting Janice and Jim last time we went out to their local Bocce court and played a game. In Key West, play is regularly interrupted for either the feral chickens running through or one of the huge iguanas sauntering across. Crazy place.

Iguanas at Southernmost Bocce Club, Key West

So Bocce, and British Lawn Bowling for that matter is this refined pastime played politely on tidy courts. Petanque in contrast was invented to be played wherever you have the space – on gravel, on grass, with a slope or even on sand. Steel balls about the size of tennis balls are used instead of the larger resin Bocce balls.  Petanque is not as much a rolling game as an underhand throwing game to get close to that little Coche or Jack ball.  There is significant skill involved of course in getting your ball to fly through the air to get close to the target, ideally with a little backspin to keep it from rolling too far, but because it is played on an irregular surface that irregularity is a great equalizer.  Just a little bump in the ground from a root or stone can humble a good player. So in that regard if Bocce is chess, Petanque is backgammon with that roll of the die to add an element of chance.

Parenthetically I should add that I think to play Petanque according to true French tradition you must have a baguette, some cheese and wine also on hand. This also equalizes the quality of play!

The use of a beret and French sailors stripped shirt however will just get you laughed at.

So why do I think this is a metaphor for our current times? Well, Bocce is predictable. You do certain things in a disciplined way and the outcome is pretty easy to forecast, even if the chickens and iguanas have messed up the court a bit, because once they pass, things are largely back to a normal surface. So in life, you study or learn your trade, you work hard and employ good discipline and behavior and pretty regularly your career or life works out.

Petanque has that crazy bumpy surface with roots and stones that makes every throw a new adventure. I think that is where we are right now.  Some have hit a nasty bump and lost their incomes, their jobs and in the extreme cases, their lives. Some have had their business fail that not only takes away their livelihood but their nest-egg and crippled their plans to sell the business and retire one day. Some have hardly noticed the effect of this pandemic financially and are just enjoying so much take out food. In general it has been very bad for the poor but randomly unpredictable for everyone. I see it here with some losing their boats, while others are excited by the buying opportunities,  and for some a certain thinking that with the world at an end – anything goes.

OTTIMISTA

The only stocks I buy are stalks of celery, but when I hear people in the financial worlds talking I know that the conventional wisdom is that in a down market you buy to get your average cost per share down and your dividend yield up, and in an up market you sell to harvest the yield from your earlier good buying discipline. But this may well be a different time. Some will benefit I am sure from that old strategy and some of the “smart” money will do well but just as some people made money in the early days of tech and the early days of legalized cannabis, some lost everything in both of those sectors.

Certainly it is a time when lots of people are experiencing some changes in their lives that while not positive, have some positive elements and ones they never would have experienced voluntarily.  Slowing down, spending more time together, evaluating what is important in life are all things we see happening all around us, and those are positive trends.  The most common response I get when asked what someone will do when this is over? Hug a friend.

PESSIMISTA

I think any of us who chose to continue on the planet are at some level optimists. But I also  think that most complex things are not as binary as that.  We may be optimists on personal growth and pessimists on financial security. Or pessimists for the short term prospects and optimists for the longer term. And those of us who are on the wrong side of a certain age have seen enough to be cautiously optimistic, or pragmatically pessimistic. Experience counts, and some of us have the knowledge that we don’t have the time left to get some of this wrong so we may be quite positive in attitude but make decisions to protect ourselves if we are wrong.

This post has truly been a bit of ramble, but I think we can learn a lot from the game of Petanque.

Django

ON LEARNING I WAS A BAD SON

Posted: December 3, 2015

The last post was all about Risotto and it was also a story about how much I had been enjoying my life with Marc and Lotte and their kids in the summer of 1993. But as August progressed a plan was hatched for the family to go on a one week or ten-day trip with the boat. They had never gone cruising for more than a night or two but both Marc and Lotte and the two older ones had become pretty competent at both navigation and at maneuvering this large boat. There is little question that the introduction of bow thrusters on recreational boats meant that the art of docking something of that size moved more into the science or learned skill category. With that said, it still takes experience and some conviction to handle it well and that was the stage all four of them but Lotte and Marc especially had made it to.

So in mid-August, they were heading off for ten days cruising up the Dutch coast, German coast and over to the English coast before coming back to Harlingen.  I was to make up a lot of prepared food and they agreed to pay me half my usual wage and I would go somewhere on holiday too!

I had not seen my grandmother in Rennes France for some years and had not even kept up with her by correspondence but decided that now that I had some dollars ahead I would take the train and go to see her.

It was a shocking ten days for me. When I arrived I found her in good health but quite upset for many reasons. She had not heard from me nor had my parents heard from me for several months and assumed that I was still working for the cruise line that had fired me. Several calls and faxes to the ship and to the cruise line had gone unanswered until it was learned that I was no longer employed there.

My grandmother was the one to tell me that my parents had both died in a car accident at about the same time I was sacked – almost nine months earlier. They had been on a slippery road with the first big snowfall north of Ottawa where they had rented a ski cabin for the winter and were setting it up.  It highlighted that I had not checked in at any point during that time – not at Christmas or my parents or grandmothers birthday or even to let them know where I was.

My father’s coworkers and some of my parent’s friends and their lawyer had dealt with everything including the sale of the house, the cremation … everything.

As a woman in her eighties, my grandmother or Odie, as I called her, (her real name was Odile), had lived as a child through the first war, then as a young mother through the depression and into the second war. She had buried her husband and daughter from illness in the 1950’s and now one of her two sons. Her other son she refused to see as he had made some bad decisions during the second war. Like me, she felt like an orphan. Unlike me, however, she had always been disciplined and hardworking and supportive.

For the first time Odie told me how bad a child I had been and the sacrifices my parents had made for me. As part of the French Diplomatic corps, my father had many opportunities to move to a higher position by moving to other postings but stayed in Ottawa to try to have a nice life for me to grow up. He became a senior, but not very senior, part of the French Embassy in Ottawa, and would train incoming roles junior to his to be his senior but he like his life with my mother and me in Ottawa. By the time high school was over for me most of his opportunities were behind him and it must have been frustrating for him and my mom to watch me not focus on my future. My cavalier attitude and irresponsible lifestyle after quitting university were tolerated at first but then became tiresome for my parents and eventually an open disappointment.  With no siblings, I was their focus, pride and joy and then disappointment. Their two urns sat on a shelf in Odie’s living room.

I won’t share how bad my visit with my Odie was, but after the second day, I left on a train from Rennes to Paris and a flight to Canada. As the child of a foreign diplomat from France, with a mother from Canada and being born in Canada I carried both a French (EU) passport as well as a Canadian passport, but my Canadian one had expired so I traveled on the French one.

In Ottawa, I went to see my fathers office both to speak to them about any outstanding issues and to have them re-apply for my Canadian passport for me and to send it to my grandmother. My fathers assistant was pretty upset to see me. Apparently, my parents fought all the time about what to do about me. She had a few mementos from his office, one of which was a postcard he prized,  I had once sent them from Turkey. The look on her face when looking at me was so disturbing. This was the second person in a week who needed to make sure I knew that I had not deserved the love and support they had for me.

My next stop was at a lawyers office who was a personal friend of my parents and who had handled my parents will. Apparently, between my mother’s parents who were now passed and my fathers’ mother (Odie), they had fed some of their income each year to help their parents and after the sale of their house in a real estate downturn, there was very little left. My mothers work had been for a not for profit that paid very little as well. Given what a disappointment I now knew I had been to them I was embarrassed even having the conversation with the lawyer about getting an inheritance.

The life insurance company documents the lawyer had me sign and would submit but I would have to set up an account with a Canadian bank with operations in Europe to have the insurance annuity they had set up for me paid into each month. It would be $763.54 Canadian each month until the earlier of the age of 90 or my death.

I was at day five of my ten-day “holiday” from my work with Marc and Lotte and decided to look up some old friends to try to reconnect with someone. I really had not been back to Canada much since quitting university about eighteen years before. Most were on summer holiday or had left Ottawa, so I headed off to Toronto where many had ended up. An old girlfriend hung up on me and my call to Jim’s place and the response of his eight-year-old daughter was fairly typical of a busy family who didn’t know who I was. She told me her mom was outside packing to go to the cottage, her dad was at work and asked if I was “the crazy Django my dad went to high school with”.  I assured her I was that very Django and told her to just wish her mom and dad well.

So I had been a bad son, an absent friend and everyone I knew in Canada had moved on. I had felt pretty good about how my life had been going with Marc, Lotte, and their family but knew that even that little achievement would soon end as the summer was coming to a close.

As I sat on the plane back to Europe I  did not really know what I would do but just felt that whatever it would be I would have to create as I had burned out any real links to my past. The guilt I was feeling about my parents was overwhelming but my grandmother and my fathers assistant had only seen it from one perspective.

My parents were pretty absent in my life. As an only child, you would think they were an ever-present part but my father was very focused on his work and because my mother worked for an NGO  that was often at odds with the French Government they never talked about his work or hers so there was a big gap in their relationship. I was treated very much just as a third adult in the house and on the rare occasions we would eat together my mom couldn’t tell me what she was up to, nor could my dad and they would rarely ask me about school or my interests as it would highlight how strange their own relationship was. The only things they seemed to share were skiing, occasional cooking, and house stuff, a few trips,  and a lot of sex. This pair were like rabbits. They couldn’t talk together about work but boy they made up for it sexually. Not my favourite memories, especially when I would have friends over for a sleepover in high school.

Even my name had been a result of their strained work conflict. My father, seen to be an up and coming diplomate did not want me to have his surname as the protocol at the time for diplomats (who were much more senior than he was, but that he aspired to be) was to name their children their wife’s surname to protect them somewhat from kidnapping. So that is how I came to have the last name Bisous, my moms’ last name. Now Bisous is a pretty “out-there” name and was one that my mother was also happy for me to have because I was the last in the line and she liked the idea of keeping the name alive. It was a name that originated with her grandfather, Henri Bissonette, who on the ship from France to New France decided somewhere on that crossing that his nickname should be his formal name. So he stepped onto the ship in France as Henri Bissonette and off the ship in what would later become Canada as Henri Bisous. The snickers that it would attract all the way through my school life my mother assured me were nothing compared to the experience she and her three sisters endured and that it was a fine name. For any of you who do not speak French,  Bisous means “little kisses” and the act of greeting a friend with alternating little kisses on the cheek also falls under this term.

My parents also were unanimous apparently on my other names. Django was my middle name, as they were both fans of the duo Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, but Django in particular. Giving that as a second name was also a safe, personal element to my identity as they gave me what they felt was a fine first name – Pascal. Oh My God – Pascal! I know that my buddy Jim was named after James Dean and jokes that he could have as easily been named Fabian or Elvis. I think those would be in the same category as Pascal. My parents and Odie still called me Pascal but from about grade four on I was Django to everyone else. Well, my parents wouldn’t be calling me Pascal anymore. It was a sad thing.

Maybe it was partially having a unique, almost cartoon name that made me a class clown or so self-focused- I don’t know. Other kids had multiples of their name in every class and were usually called by their last name. In one year there were seven Jims in a class of less than thirty. Maybe that’s how my great-grandfather ended up being called Bisous – too many Bissonnette’s?

As the flight back to Europe drew on I kept wondering how much of my strange childhood had been my fault and how much was my parents doing. When I looked at the warmth of Marc and Lotte with their four kids it was nothing like my life growing up.  But when I reflected on most of my friend’s relationships with their parents when we were growing up it wasn’t all that close either. But to put it in perspective none of my school friends experienced two parents forgetting to get a tree for Christmas and going out on Christmas day to find one. The next year my mother bought an artificial one and it sat decorated in the basement for every year thereafter.

I was hopeful  Odie I could still have a relationship with if I worked at it. It was a  long overnight flight and I had the opportunity to write her a letter telling her about what I had done in Canada and that I would stay in touch once I had a more permanent place to live.

So for those of you who thought these posts were going to be all happy thoughts … sorry, I let you down too. But as I am writing this many years later I can tell you it does get better. Don’t give up on me.