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.
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.
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.
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.