I’ve been absolutely itching to write about this, because it’s just too cool. Last week I went out to a pool hall with my boss and a friend of his (aside: the rigamarole my boss went through to be allowed to go out by his girlfriend struck fear in my heart). Laurent had really been talking this expedition up, though, from the seedy authenticity of the bar to the challenge of “French billiards.” If you had asked me a week ago if there was such a thing as French billiards, I would have called you a liar, and I would have been wrong. It’s probable that it was not only invented by the French but that it is completely unknown outside France. The gist of the game is this: you hit ball one into ball two, and then ball one has to continue on to hit ball three. If you do it, you get a point. If you don’t, it’s the next person’s turn, and he has to start by hitting whatever ball he’s been assigned. That’s it. No pockets, only three balls.
Any ways, if you think about it, you realize it’s kind of fundamentally different from how we play pool. Those of us who aren’t great at pool don’t worry too hard about exactly where the cue ball is going to go after it hits the first ball -- and even when you try and put the cue ball in a good position for a second shot, it’s still not nearly as difficult as actually hitting another ball with it. Or maybe I’m a huge baby.
So I’m standing around sucking at this game and grumbling into my beer, when the two guys who were working behind the bar come over and set up shop at the table next to us. And proceed to do pool tricks like you see on ESPN2. Like, the really good ones, too. For their first shot, they set up three balls in the corner all touching each other, hit the first ball into one of the other two, then had the first ball continue all the way down to the far end of the table, where the backspin stopped it and pulled it all the way back into the original corner, tapping the side bumper exactly three times before gently tapping the third ball. I wish I’d had a video camera.
Evidently the better of the two guys is currently ranked number two in France in this crazy artistic billiards, is the five-time French champion, and was the European champion in 1996. If you’re interested in the guy playing pool next to me, I found more information about him on the web.
Even cooler, however, was when he came over to our table and started giving us advice. He’d stare at one of us as we scratched our heads and lined up hopeless shots, then ask to know what exactly we’re trying to do. The way he could tell from all the way across the room exactly what part of the ball we were aiming at and if we were lined up too far to one side or another was just eerie. With a big grin, he’d walk on over and show me how, no, you have to hit the ball on the left side, no spin, because if you hit it on the middle it’ll take off into the bumper. And keep the cue almost completely flat relative to the table, to make it easier to hit the ball straight. And now try putting a whole lot of spin on it. He’d demonstrate, explain what he’d done, and hand the cue back.
A former world champion of a game I'd never heard of a week ago, but impressive all the same. Needless to say, I’m planning on going back again as soon as I can.
Unrelated News: Through the magic of flickr, I found an amazing shelter animals photoset. That’s the kind of stuff that motivates me to learn more about photography. Also, Iron and Wine’s album “Woman King” is top-notch.