Bocce, the quintessential lawn game

Laurie Snider
Notes from the Nest

On the day of the tournament, the sun was shining brightly in a sky that was the colour, that if I was picking out paint chips at the hardware store, I would describe as, ‘Summertime Blue.’

The temperature hovered around 28 degrees and the humidity, that’d been plaguing us over the last several days, was mostly absent. Our host’s lawn was neatly manicured and not a weed was in sight in their impeccably cared for gardens. These were perfect conditions for the 11th annual bocce ball tournament, hosted by our good friends.

Our family has been attending since the inaugural tournament, which is always great fun. A lively round or two of bocce, followed by an enticing feast in Doug and Pam’s barn, makes for a delightful way to spend an early August afternoon. Doug once told me a friend of his advised him, “when you have a crowd of people over, you need to give them something to do.” Turns out it was sage advice and thus a little recreation prior to our noshing and nibbling in the form of a bocce tournament was born.

Bocce ball or some form of it has been around for eons. A painting of two boys playing a similar game, dating from 5200 BC, was discovered in an Egyptian tomb. From there it spread to the Middle East and to the Greeks and Romans. Its present form originated in Italy and it traveled throughout Europe, Australia and to the Americas from there. It’s also known as Italian lawn bowling and is closely related to British bowls or the French refer to it as, ‘Boule Lyonnaise.’

Luckily our friends know their guests well, as the afternoon diversion they selected is quite easy to play.  To put it simply, it involves throwing balls at other balls. The smaller ball is called the ‘Jack,’ which is randomly thrown by a player, somewhere on the other side of the court, or in our case some section of well-groomed but not necessarily flat lawn. We may not be a highly skilled bunch but we’re not averse to a few challenges, such as the odd divot or downward sloping grade, where even the most gently tossed balls pick up speed and rolling out of sight like a runaway train about to jump the tracks.

I found it fascinating to discover that bocce is the third most popular game in the world, after soccer and golf. It’s been extremely popular throughout the ages, being enjoyed by the likes of Hippocrates when he wasn’t busy reciting his oath, Galileo when he didn’t have his head up in the stars and by George Washington when he wasn’t otherwise occupied cutting down cherry trees.

During his rein King Henry the VIII had it banned. He felt it was too distracting for his soldiers, whom he thought should be at archery practice instead, lest they need to defend him. Of course, he loved the game himself, which is why he only imposed the ban for the working class.

There’s even a rather scandalous tale associated with this otherwise reputable game, known as the legend of Fanny. Fanny wasn’t a player but rather a woman who would expose her ah … ‘fanny,’ to the losers of a match that failed to score a single point. They were then obliged to kiss it, in defeat. Well now!

Bocce may be the most popular game but quite commonly when you combine sunny, summer days, a great group of people, a free stretch of park or lawn and some game equipment, fun things are bound to happen. In my youth lawn darts were common until they were banned after causing deaths and many severe injuries. Thankfully, there’re many other entertaining options like horseshoes, croquet and now corn hole for leisure and playtime.

Happily, I’m one of those people who’s just grateful for the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the great outdoors, in the company of agreeable companions, tossing hefty weighted orbs around the lawn and later savouring a delectable meal. Because after eleven years of playing, I’ve failed to make the podium. Well there’s always next year, perhaps 12 will be my lucky number.

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