Le coup du Père Noel

I originally wrote this story a few years ago. I still like it and I decided to republish it. So here you are.


For Santa Claus, December and January have always been busy months. From the North Pole he routinely treks to Europe, Asia, Africa and even to Russia where he is affectionately known as Grandpa Frost.

Being politically correct, Santa has to be careful of avoiding diplomatic “faux-pas”. Wherever he goes, he has to dress the part, and because of this he carries in his trunk more outfits than Cher in her farewell tour.
It is only natural that after that busy period of the year Santa seeks a little peace far away from the hue and cry of big cities.

Usually, when the holiday season is over, Santa Claus takes refuge in the South of France, in a little village of the Provence area.
It just happens that in his spare time Santa likes to play Pétanque and there is no better place for this than the little village of C. where Pétanque have been practiced for a least a century.
Santa had been going there incognito for years and he had become a fixture of the local Pétanque court.

When he first arrived, he gave his first name as Noel, and ever since, because of his portly and debonair appearance, the locals took to calling him “Père Noel” (old man Noel). Little did they know…
Noel, never betrayed his identity. Upon arriving in C. he would slip into a pair of shorts, an old Hawaiian shirt and sandals.  He would also don an old straw hat and a pair of dark sunglasses.
The locals did not know much about him except that he was some kind of a businessman and that he was a Northerner. For most of the “Provençaux”, anybody hailing from north of Valence is a Northerner.
But Noël proved to be a jovial and congenial fellow and everybody adopted him.
Everybody, except a certain Léandre who was unanimously disliked by the rest of the players.

Leandre was a skinny and quarrelsome fellow who resented the popularity of this “Northerner” while he, a native son, was routinely disparaged by his own people.
Noel played mainly as a “pointeur” and everybody praised his uncanny ability to “deliver the goods”. In a pinch you could always rely on Le Père Noel to place a winning or defensive shot.

Léandre was known as a “tireur” (shooter) and he was a fairly good one.
So it was not unusual for Noel and Léandre to cross swords in the arena.
When Noel would place a great ball hugging the cochonnet, Léandre would shoot it and blow it out of the way. He was a good shooter, but not a gracious one. He would always accompany his shots with disparaging comments about his opponent.

After a while, despite his sunny disposition, Le Père Noel grew tired of Leandre’s remarks and demeanor.
He challenged him to a “friendly little game” and to sweeten the deal he stipulated that the loser would reward the winner with “un cochon de lait” (suckling pig) and a case of Chateauneuf du Pape.
Léandre, sure of his skills and enticed by the tempting prize, accepted the challenge without any hesitation.
The game was to be played in 15 points with 5 balls for each player.

Alerted by the local gossips, the entire village gathered to watch the historic match between skinny Léandre and rotund Noel.
Heavy bets were placed on each contender.
The “cochon de lait” and the case of wine were there for the winner to take home.

Le Père Noel started very well, placing superb balls near the cochonnet, only to be shot and dispersed all over the field by the murderous accuracy of Léandre.
But Le Père Noel persisted and Léandre started to get a little tired of shooting and started to miss.
The lead went back and forth between Léandre and le Père Noel, until Léandre mistakenly hit the cochonnet and pushed it a good 20 meters away from the starting circle.

Le Père Noel had 2 balls left and Léandre 3.

The score was now 14 to 12 in favor of Léandre. He needed only one more point to take the cochon de lait, the wine and the everlasting glory home.
Le Père Noel crouched, aimed carefully and placed a great ball about three inches in front of le “petit”.
Léandre, almost without aiming, shot his first ball and missed by a few inches. He threw his second ball and missed again. He cursed loudly in Provençal. Summoning all his skills he shot his last ball and hit a stunning “carreau”. His ball hit and took the place of his opponent.

That ball was now about 2 inches in front of the cochonnet and Le Père Noel had only one ball left. He was not known as a shooter, and at this distance (about 20 yards) with a wall of balls in front of him, the situation looked pretty hopeless.

Le Père Noel walked slowly to the cochonnet to appraise the situation. Léandre watched him with an ironic smirk on his face.

Le Père Noel walked back to the starting circle, cleaned his sunglasses, stroke his beard and after a few seconds he let his last ball fly. It flew  slow-motion-like in a perfect orb  and hit Leandre’s ball squarely on its head.
With a strange, almost plaintive sound, Leandre’s ball disintegrated and scattered in a multitude of small pieces.

The crowd stood still for a few seconds and suddenly erupted in wild cheers. Vive le Père Noel, they cried, vive le Père Noel.
Léandre totally stunned, stood paralyzed, incapable of making any move or any sound.

The crowd started to rush toward the Père Noel when an odd swishing sound was heard. A sleigh drawn by nine snorting reindeers swooshed down from the sky, and Le Père Noel carrying the piglet and the case of wine under each arm jumped aboard and disappeared, never to be seen again.

To this day, the villagers are still talking about this strange turn of events and the mythic “coup du Père Noel”.
Léandre left the village never to return.

There are some rumors that le Père Noel has been seen playing Pétanque in Copacabana.



Gun control

When I started this column, it was never my intention to deal with weighty issues.
My intent had always been to inform and entertain.
But unexpected events sometimes force you to deal with darker subjects such as the abhorrent massacre that occurred last Friday in a Connecticut elementary school.

Like everybody else I watched the news reports about this tragedy and I was struck by the fact that none of the reporters seemed to be willing to address the root of the problem. The widespread, unchecked sale of guns in America.
Every pundit talked about what to tell the children, but nobody had the balls to broach the biggest bugaboo of them all, gun control.

America is awash with weapons and killings are daily occurrences. Still nobody seems to be willing to deal with this calamity.
In the eyes of the world, America is still perceived as the Wild West and this not something that we should be proud of.

I can understand why somebody would want to keep a pistol (with an eight round magazine max) for protection, but I cannot fathom why any civilian would buy an assault rifle or any gun with high capacity magazines. Unless of course the real aim is to kill a bunch of people

The so-called “right to bear arms” is a relic from the past and needs to be amended.

Very few politicians from both sides of aisle have what it takes to deal with firearms control. It seems that their political longevity is more far more precious than human lives.
This country is in dire need of gun control and the NRA should be held responsible for every killing that occurs in America.

How many innocent victims will it take for our gutless politicians to finally take action?

If you or your children do not want to be the next victims, pressure your elected officials to enact laws that will restrict gun proliferation and truly protect law abiding citizens.



Hagop Sarafian

“They say that age is all in your mind. The trick is keeping it from creeping down into your body.”


Regardless of social origin, education, wealth, Father Time will soon or later take us down a peg or two. What we could easily manage a decade ago becomes more problematic with each passing year.

But some people age better than others and Hagop Sarafian (son of Saraf) is one of them.
He was born on December 23, 1922 in Marash (Southeastern Turkey) a city with a tormented past that was then part of the Ottoman Empire.
Due to the 1915-1923 Armenian Genocide, and under very difficult conditions, Hagop’s family escaped Turkey and trekked to Aleppo, Syria. Hagop was then just 40 days old.

His father was a small rug merchant and in Syria Hagop learned the weaver trade by watching and helping him.

At age of 20, he gave up this line of work and started to make a living as a drummer in a local band. He performed throughout Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran for the next fifteen years.
In 1958 at age 36, Hagop emigrated to France and shortly after he met and wed fellow Armenian Isabelle Sarafian. They were married according to the Armenian tradition in an orthodox church in Paris.

While in France, he learned how to play pétanque.
In 1972, he pulled up stakes again and moved to Cleveland, USA, to be closer to his younger brother.
A year later he moved to California.

At 90, Hagop (Armenian form of Jacob) is the poster boy for  senior citizens.
A fierce pétanque competitor and a renowned “shooter”, he can still deliver amazing “carreaux” and put to shame people twenty years younger.
One also wonders at his remarkable ability to crouch like a young boy to measure contested points.

Not adverse to an occasional shot of booze or a puff of locoweed, he still has a sharp mind and all his hair, things I wish I could say about myself.
He also has an excellent memory that contributes to make him a formidable card player.

Born and raised in a patriarchal society, Hagop inherited some of the characteristics of a male oriented society.
He is not unlike a chestnut, prickly outside, sweet inside.
Often misunderstood, thin-skinned, slightly handicapped by some hearing loss, Hagop has mellowed with age and blossomed into an upstanding human being.

He is proud of his Armenian roots and of his Christian Orthodox faith.

Please join me in congratulating Hagop Sarafian on his 90th birthday and wishing him many more “carreaux” in the years to come.

Let’s make Sunday, December 23rd, Hagop Sarafian Day!

Tsnudat Shnorhavor Hagop!


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