Now I’m alert to the risks that public parks present me with: stray dogs with large teeth that will “hound” you for your lunch or even a takeaway tea, small children on scooters who can neither swerve nor break, teenagers on bicycles taking a short cut at top speed, joggers, beggars, hawkers and pick pockets. To the ever expanding list of hazards I can crash into, trip over or be robbed blind by, add the game of “boules”.
Anyone labouring under the illusion that boules is just bowls with a French spelling, had better think again. Boules is no sedate game, played in the warmth of a continental evening in areas reserved for old men to meet and chat about the important matters of the day, while nonchalantly chewing tobacco and casually rolling a wooden ball about. Oh no.
Boules is a fiercely competitive game in which metal balls are liberally hurled about like cannon balls. Players aren’t fussy. They’ll play it anywhere. For a good impromptu game, the intersection of pathways in public parks provide just the right sort of playing arena, perfect for the reach of determined players to aim and dispatch a large heavy metal ball at a small heavy metal target ball, strategically positioned for a bit of competitive throwing.
If you don’t know this, and are not alert to the dangers of boules and you can’t see those metal balls hurtling towards you, you are at risk of having your legs shot out from under you. You are at risk of being bowled over.
Coming back from a quick cup of catch up tea with a friend, I was purposefully striding through the City Gardens in Sofia. Wanda, my speaking google map, was giving directions in my ear. “Turn left,” she said, and so I did. What Wanda didn’t tell me, and could not have known, was that I was marching into a game of boules that was in full competitive swing. I was oblivious because I could not see it. The players were oblivious that I was oblivious because I did not have my cane in my hand. In my defence, an extended white cane would probably not have made any difference to what happened next. I was not in Kansas anymore.
In my oblivious state I wandered on to the pathway intersection, otherwise known as the field of play, and managed to kick a few metal balls about without noticing. That’s what comes of wearing sensible shoes. After a good deal of waving that I could not see, and a fair amount of yelling “stop” that I had not understood was meant for me, I was struck in the thigh by a metal ball, thrown with force, in order to put an end to my marauding, inconsiderate, arrogant foreigner ways.
Having been stopped dead in my tracks, and clutching my thigh, I began to look for clues as to the source of the assault. “Sorreeee,” came a chorus of sarcasm. “You should look where you are going.”
“No vision,” I said, pointing at my eyes and shrugging my shoulders in an “I didn’t know you were there,” kind of a gesture. “Sorreeee,” I said.
I was beaten back by a flurry of cannonballs bouncing along the ground and past me. I might have destroyed their game but not the accuracy of their aim.
Who would belief that boules would be such a serious business? The people who play it I imagine. Who would believe that someone wandering about, alone, in the middle of the afternoon, couldn’t see where they were going? The person doing the wandering I suppose.
Making sense of it all depends on the view from where you are standing.