A sizable bocce tournament was the perfect event for the pairing.

Just last Sunday, I tucked my long legs under my chin and jammed myself into the backseat of my friend’s Fiat Panda with two other people. Packed to the gills, we headed north into the mountains and took a route full of stomach-churning turns and switchbacks. We were first to arrive at a huge, roofed bocce and calcio (soccer) game-center for a castagne (chestnut) roast and bocce ball tournament. Only the headlights from our car and distant lights from a group of houses above illuminated our arrival. I thought, “What did I sign up for?” Maybe the gathering had been over-hyped.

Castagne and Bocce slowly came together

Boy, was I wrong!

A tidal wave of cars and people suddenly arrived. Lights to the arena were switched on and a fire to roast a bountiful helping of chestnuts was started. Not twenty minutes later, there were at least fifty people gathered. I had no idea this would be such an organized event.

I warmed up my fledgling bocce game with friends and then moseyed over to watch the chestnut roasting master and his rusty metal drum containing the culinary treasures that already had people salivating.

Castagne and bocce

The bocce tournament commenced.

My friends put a plastic cup of red wine and my hand, and I was off to see what round one had in store for me. There was some confusion at first as I endeavored to find who I’d been paired with. Only when I realized that when the master of ceremonies had been calling “Jack,” did I understand that he was talking about me. I laughed and became Jack for the duration of the evening.

My first partner was a seasoned player. He gave me a good me a good twice-over. I could tell that he was internally bemoaning the fact that not only had he been paired with a stranieri (foreigner) but a novice bocce ball player as well. I cringed inwardly, hoping that I wouldn’t send us to quick ruin in the first round.

But, while I don’t have a lengthy bocce history under my belt, I’m good with spatial skills and the physics of throwing and placement. And guess what? My partner and I cruised to a solid victory.

Whew, at least I wasn’t chased off the bocce courts.

As we paused and waited for round two, the roasted chestnuts arrived.

I’d had chestnuts a few times before and had never been impressed. But, this evening became a game-changer. Maybe it was the thrill of having done well in our first bocce round. Perhaps it was pairing the hot, freshly roasted nuts with a hearty red wine. It was probably both, but I started gobbling them up along with my Italian friends.

Yes, castagne and bocce make good friends.

bocce and castagne make great pals

Round two of bocce was lackluster.

I was put with my friend Francesco and a woman I hadn’t met. It was a three-against-two round, though each team had six total balls. We gave it our best but, still, we were trounced.

Oh well. Time to gorge on more castagne and red wine.

Round three delivered redemption.

Again, I was paired with my partner from round one. The dread of being a disappointment returned, though diminished a tad by a happy stomach. The red wine didn’t hurt either, and I was a bit more carefree. I said to myself, “Have fun and let what will be, be.”

My partner was less relaxed than me. I can’t say I could blame him. Final round and paired again with a novice? The first victory surely had been a fluke.

But we prevailed, again soundly. I floated my last two throws to land close to the little orange ball, scoring us the two extra points needed to cinch our win in this round.

More castagne and a bit more red wine to celebrate.

I was anything but inebriated. Too much adrenaline had been circulating in my brain and body during the tournament (yes, I have a history of being an overachiever). Now, I could fully relax. I had done well. No cringe-worthy performance had emerged. Castagne and bocce had turned out to be a great combo for the evening.

Meanwhile, a third roasting of castagne was delivered and we indulged once again. More than half of the people who had shown up for castagne and bocce had come mostly for the castagne and lively conversation and commentary of the tournament. Smiles were in ample supply.

Somehow, I ended up in the winner’s circle.

All I know is that my good friend Salvatore put a five euro in my hand. Like everyone else, I’d put in my five euros earlier in the evening to pay for my participation. When I asked, “Perchè me hai dato questo?” (Why did you give me this?). He responded, “Perchè tu hai vinto. (Because you won).

I have no idea what that really meant. Maybe I came in the top group of players. Maybe my partner and I emerged as the victorious players for the evening. Regardless, I had a good showing. More importantly, I had a wonderful time with my Italian friends and I finally fell in love with castagne.

Just maybe I’m inching towards being more Italian.