ANOTHER KIND OF YEAR IN PROVENCE
Whistler-based author talks about his pétanque obsession and sense of belonging
Uncorked — My year in Provence studying pétanque, discovering Chagall, drinking pastis, and mangling French by Paul Shore (Sea To Sky Books)
B.C. author Paul Shore’s Uncorked has been named one of 2017’s best indie books of the year by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group.
The story was a finalist in the travel category of the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, which honour independent publishers and self-published authors.
Whistler-based writer and longtime technology industry worker Shore is pleasantly surprised to see the accolades his book is receiving as well as the solid sales on Amazon.
He talked to Postmedia News about Uncorked.
Q You mention in the first chapter of Uncorked that you had done the “typical 12 country, 37 city European ‘been there, done that, got the T-shirt’ tour.” What made the South of France the focus for an immersive experience?
A An affinity for French within Canada. I grew up in Ottawa, where French and francophones were very present, yet I lived in an English suburb with little direct exposure, and as I became an adult I began to wish that had been different. And the beauty of the South of France stuck with me from that post-university Eurorail-style tour. Years later, when I was offered the assignment to go there to open the European sales and marketing office of our startup software company, I jumped at the opportunity. The location was the European headquarters of our computer chip partner Texas Instruments, which is why that location in Europe made sense of us.
Q Choosing Saint-Paul de Vence for a nice, quiet getaway from tourists was a bit of a mistake that worked out, wasn’t it?
A Exactly! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The relocation agency showed me many apartments in many towns and the apartment in Saint-Paul was the first that wasn’t a dive, so I jumped at it because I was tiring of touring dive apartments all over the place. Without knowing much at all about the village history and that it was such a tourist destination, colleagues at TI told me I had made a big mistake and would hate living there during summer tourist season. But it all worked out great in the end.
Q Do you think that coming from a high-tech startup background but being surrounded by medieval beauty played a part in rewiring your head so you became obsessed with the game of pétanque? Can you explain the game (in brief )?
A It’s true that the medieval beauty and atmosphere of a rich history contributed to me wanting to learn to play pétanque, though I think what drove me initially was mostly loneliness. I was alone in a foreign place, where I knew few people (none in Saint-Paul), so when I spotted something that I thought I could become good at and get accepted by the locals in the process, I pursued it. You are correct that I sort of became obsessed with the game, breaking into it and not just playing, but becoming good enough to be respected. The deeper I learned its nuances and complexities, the more obsessed I became. The metaphors for business and for life in general, the friendships that could be developed and the mental elements (mind games) were just as important as the physical skills.
The game is similar to bocce, though don’t say that to anybody from France. It’s actually quite similar to curling, but don’t say that to anybody from France, either. It is typically played two against two. Each player has three balls. There is a little target ball that is thrown out each end and one nickname for it is the bouchon (the cork). Teams then take turns rolling or throwing balls towards the bouchon, the object being to get as many of your balls closest to it before the nearest opponent team’s ball, thereby counting one point for each of your balls that are closer than any of the opponents. You play as many ends per game as needed for one team to reach 13 and to win by at least two points. And a match is the best two of three games. It can take hours to play a competitive match.
Q By the time you finished your journey, you had developed quite a close bond with your mentor/coach Hubert and possessed an official membership card in the pétanque inner circle. Does membership have its privileges?
A Membership allows you entry into the tiny private clubhouse for a drink and socializing. I never saw other foreigners, or people whose first language wasn’t French, in that building. Other than that, it simply carries with it the privilege of a deep sense of semi-belonging.
Q Given your Whistler location, any chance of setting up a league there?
A There are two pétanque grounds here, though I haven’t seen them used in years. Both are single-game spaces outside of restaurants. I once played on Bastille Day with a group of French-Canadians. I think a league is likely out of the question, though maybe I should try to get some people to play July 14.
Finding six balls in town, to go with the six that I happen to own, may be a challenge.
Author Paul Shore says “the beauty” of Southern France “stuck with me” after a post-university rail tour.