Bocce rocks. When Matty and I visited his uncle Pebe in the north of Italy, every night we would watch him play at the local club. People compare it to lawn bowls, but I think that's a long bow to draw. As far as I'm concerned, lawn bowls can go take a long jump. Bocce's where it's at. Have you ever heard someone so defensive about a mature adult's ballgame?
At around 5pm each day, the same dance would begin. Pebe would offer up a list of dinner suggestions: "We could go for pizza or bruschetta or pasta or fish or...". After a while, I cracked the code: Pebe wants the first dish on the list. The same would happen for after dinner activities and bocce was always first. His eyes lit up when, each night, we chose bocce.
All the men in this small village would descend on the club at around 7pm. When Pebe turned up with four young Australians, everyone's eyes lit up. Given none of us spoke Italian fluently, people would stand behind Pebe and use him as a mouthpiece to make conversation. I suspect a good portion was censored before being translated.
Each night we would come back and watch them play. They'd heckle each other, one woman would sing songs about bambinas and we would drink one euro beers til hometime. Gradually, they started speaking with us (Pebe taught us the most useful Italian phrase: parla piano, meaning "speak slowly").
We developed our own nicknames for them. One man would turn up looking very suave every night, with perfectly creased pants and an admirable coif: he was Elvis. Another had a was like a sniper in his playing style, quick and accurate. He became the Sharpshooter. The last nickname was not so creative: one man, who spoke to us at length about "arancia" (we deduced his relatives worked in Australia growing citrus) was now known as Oranges. They became our friends and would stop us on the street for a chat, and despite the fact that neither of us spoke the other's language, we understood each other perfectly.
Matt and I hatched a scheme to thank these lovely Italians for making us so welcome. We would make them a calendar for 2013 to hang at the clubhouse, we just needed an appropriate photo. One night, after a few too many great wines over dinner I ran on the pitch mid-game. Using enough gesturing for every man and his dog to understand I gathered them in a group and took the shot. Pebe told us later it was considered the height of rudeness to enter the pitch during the game, but because a young lady from overseas did it they didn't bat an eyelid.
Matt's cousin Si and his girlfriend Jane left for Venice and we stayed on for a week. On our last night, we made our final visit to bocce. We couldn't believe our eyes when we turned up: it was party time. A table was laid out with cured meats, grissini, figs, grapes, homemade wine. Everyone in the village was present; even the local priest made an appearance. We thought perhaps it was a regular event, maybe they were celebrating their patron saint's day? Pebe looked at us like we were thick: "It's for you two, to say goodbye".
They even gifted Matty with his most prized possession: a club hat.
Pebe may not know it yet, but we plan on becoming regulars in his hometown, and especially at the bocce club.
Apologies for the crappy photos: most taken were late on a very boozy night.