It’s as rare and difficult to develop fresh passions or even serious new interests in adulthood as it is to cultivate new friends. We become so firmly entrenched in our habits and limited in our options that it can come as a surprise to rediscover the youthful joy of novelty in a pursuit or relationship lacking in any pretense of utility. But when it happens it is beautiful. Since marrying into a French family seven years ago, I have developed a love, maybe even a passion (which is not at all to imply a mastery), of the game pétanque, a French variant of the bocce and lawn bowling family of boules games, optimally played under a hot sun with a cold glass of rosé. I first played it with my father-in-law and my wife’s cousins on summer visits to her grandmother’s house in Normandy. The goal is to stand still and toss steel balls, which acquire a lovely patina, as close as possible to a smaller wooden ball, or cochonnet (“piglet”). But the real goal is to talk, tease, bond, gossip, and pass the time together within a loose structure, disconnected from the screen. I have since played in public squares with visiting American friends, and last summer with my brother in a rented house in Provence that came equipped with a dusty pitch. Now it’s that time of year again, and I’ve spent the past week playing every morning and evening with a group of writers at a retreat in Spain. We range in age from our early 20s to well into middle age, and speak English, French, Basque, Catalan, and god knows what else. But on the pitch our rhythm is the same.
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