This pandemic has brought many surprises, for one, I did not expect to be watching the World Billiards Championship this Saturday from my Croatian home.
Yes, that’s right, billiards. Three cushion billiards, to be precise. On television. On my own. By choice.
My friends from back home, they say they don’t even know who I am anymore.
French Billiards. Carom. I’d heard about it a few years back. I may even have knocked a ball around a table before, not really knowing what I was doing.
Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t really paid it much attention, writing it off as another of these silly games that they try to pass off as a sport, the ones that are even duller to watch as they are to play.
Of course, as is often the case, I find myself eating my words.
By some weird twist of fate, I have the ex Croatian billiards champion, Domagoj Hum, staying with me, and he wants to watch his good friend David, whom he played with in Spain, in the World Billiards Championship. It’s only the 3rd round for now, he’s seeded 29 out of 32 players, so there’s no expectation for him to win, but it’s nice to hear about their history together.
Already I’m warming to the game, with this good sportsmanship, yet I’m still not convinced, and I have a number of jobs/ distractions/ friends to catch up on while it’s going on. Just in case.
In my mind, I’m thinking it’s going to be like watching darts or golf, or tuning into the Grand Prix after a big night out (back in the day) when you’ve only got one eye open, because that’s all you can manage, and you can literally just nod off knowing you’ll be woken up when anything is happening because the commentator just got excited.
Nonetheless, I approach this with an open mind. I had changed my opinion about cricket a few years back while living in India , when my yogi master Keshava. would watch cricket as his meditation.
Keshava, as part of his PhD had studied the effects of meditation from a scientific perspective . It was fascinating and his work and training changed my life in a way I never expected. More than anything he helped me believe in magic. Which isn’t really magic, it’s all those hidden secrets of the universe that people like Tesla spoke about, the concepts that we are only just beginning to understand again.
Anyway, back to Carom. French Billiards.
I’m hooked in my first set of watching it.
The sound of the balls soothe me and are almost hypnotic. Mozart apparently used the sounds of the balls clacking to write his symphonies.
There’s something about the geometry of it is all that is also a bit magical, and I think this is why Tesla loved it Before long, I’m off looking up the magic of the numbers 3, 6, 9, which Tesla believed held the secrets to the Universe.
Then there’s the inner game. I know about this, for my favourite Scotsman, tennis player Andy Murray was the master of it. Emotional control, overcoming adversity, this is right up my street.
Carom is like a game of poker or chess, but it’s more physical. There’s also the psychological element, and after watching The Queen’s Gambit, I think we’re all a bit fascinated by these quirky geniuses and what makes them tick.
One of my favourite aspects is the Zen factor - active rest, the art of engagement for means of meditation. The state of “flow”. I’m all over this, but this is miles more exciting that a jigsaw puzzle or knitting or motorcycle maintenance.
Not least, this game is about control over the nervous system. If you’re shaking, you’re going to balls it up (excuse the pun). Seriously nothing will work. So you have to manage your internal state. Your physiology. Your biochemistry. This is true mastery.
By the time it comes to the final, a few days later, the game is on. Sadly, the emotional balance I’m admiring in the players is eluding me, and I find myself pacing around the living room, asking the cat what he thinks the odds are.
This was testing my yogic skills even more than Boris Johnson’s press conferences.
Anyway, Domo is back in Dubrovnik and we’re texting throughout. He’s doing his in-depth psychological and strategical analysis. He’s a tennis pro and a sports psychologist, he’s knows his stuff, and he’s got insights into it all that makes it even more interesting for me.
Meanwhile, I’m sending him some “lion” energy via my spirit animals. We have different approaches, but both with the same goal - sending positive energy. And if we learned nothing else from Tesla, it’s this - energy is everything.
Anyway David won (I’m putting it down to the lion, but it was probably more Domo if I’m honest) , and he’s the new World Champion, and it just could be that he’s coming to Dubrovnik next month, to see Domagoj and talk to him about his plans for opening Croatia’s first billiards academy right here in Dubrovnik.
I didn’t realise before that Carom had been such a big part of Croatian culture, but apparently it’s been around a long time. It was obligatory in cafes since the 19th century, and I can now see why it was so popular for mental, physical and even social wellbeing. Sadly there’s been very little support for it here since the war, and whereas in other countries it’s booming, it’s a lost art in Croatia, something Domo is hoping to change.
I think he’s onto something.
I’m starting to see that it’s perhaps one of those activities that people will be drawn to trying out when they come on holiday post-pandemic, when they’re seeking out something new to try, or a different way to spend the evening than they usually might.
Domo believes that the future of tourism is not just eating, drinking, and taking pictures, but learning something new, personal growth, and developing fresh skills and experiences.
I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t think that having spent the majority of the year with restrictions and in some kind of lockdown, people will be wanting to just lie on a sunbed for the week, drinking cocktails and having the occasional massage as their “wellness quota” or stress relief.
We’re all realising that life is precious, often too short, and we want to make the most out of every moment. To grab life by the horns and embrace every new experience we come across. To start to say yes to things in life we never expected we would.
To discover things we didn’t know about ourselves, to challenge our pre~conceptions, and to perhaps find something we enjoy that we never expected to.
Like watching, or playing, billiards.
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Gillie Sutherland grew up in the north of England, before settling in Devon, but has now swapped her UK address for one on the Adriatic in the very south of Croatia, in Molunat. A professional Wellness Consultant she now runs retreats and online courses from her Konavle base. She also writes a weekly column for the Devon newspaper, The Express and Echo.
To find out more about Gillie go to www.behappyfit.co.uk