To learn a game, a coach comes in handy. In this case, I am referring to Bocci and how a small improvised Bocci court grew to have a sort of titanic influence on the people who casually used it.
I was working at a large folk heritage festival in the 1980s. The festival was a long national event, and its many presentations attracted national television and press attention.
As an anthropologist, I was “presenting”* Italian gardeners and members of several Saint’s societies. Several tents and small structures were part of the crafts, food, and music presentation. Off to one side, almost as an afterthought, was a Bocci court. For the uninitiated, Bocci belongs to a family of games popular since the Roman Empire’s days. There are two teams in a match. To simplify: The object is for one team to get as many of its balls as possible closest to the target ball, the pallino, then the opposing team.
There were schedules for cooking demonstrations, presentations in the gardens, woodworking, music, dance, and other things—Bocci kind of fell into an area by itself. None of the folklorists or anthropologists knew much about it. As a result, if you wandered over to the Bocci court, you were most likely met by an elderly Italian gentleman who would show you how to play the game. Word spread through the festival participants rapidly, and soon the spouses of participants who were accompanying wives and husbands began forming informal Bocci teams.
The court became one of the hidden successes of the festival. Because it was such a relaxed environment, staff began to take their off-duty moments at the Bocci court. Staff were drafted into teams, coached on technique, but allowed to play only when the game was very casual. There is nothing trivial about a match, no matter how relaxed the atmosphere. If you were spotted walking towards the court on a break, you might get asked, ” Going Bocci?” “Yeah, got a match.”
I don’t think the Bocci Court ever attracted the news organizations. It may have had more usage though than other areas of the festival. It was one of the elements that united many of those presenting and presented into a temporary community. This was so much so that many of their standout memories were of good times at the Bocci court.
*Pardon the colonialist usage of the word presenting. It implies that these very savvy people can’t speak for themselves, but it was part of the festival business’s terminology.