Now that we’ve mastered the 40-card Italian Deck, we can start to learn the basics of Tresette.
While the game can be played with only two players, we’ll stick to the four-player version to keep things simple. The pairs sitting opposite one another play together as a team. The cards are dealt out counter-clockwise (so unnatural!!!), ten to each player. The person to the right of the dealer leads with any card of his choice. The play continues counter-clockwise, and the other players must follow suit. If they are void (no cards in that suit), they may play any card of their choosing. The player with the highest card in the led suit takes the trick and leads the next trick with a card of his choice.
The play continues until all cards are finished, concluding a round. The teams combine the tricks they’ve taken and count their points. There are 11 points in each round, the first team to 41 points wins the game. Not too bad, right?
Now for the complicated part:
Card Rankings: the 3 is the highest card, followed by the 2, then ace, king, horse man and page boy. Then 7, 6, 5 in that order and finally, the utterly worthless card, the 4.
Points: while the 3 is the highest card, it is not the most valuable.
- The aces are valued at one point each (4 total).
- All 2s, 3s, kings, horse men, and page boys are worth 1/3 of a point each (6 and 2/3 total). And just when you thought 3rd Grade mathematics wasn’t useful!
- All other cards have no point value.
- An additional point is awarded to the team who collects the last trick of the round.
- Total points possible each round is therefore 11 and 2/3. However, teams may only score a whole number (ex. a team with 6 and 2/3 points has scored only 6).
Bonus Points: when the cards are dealt, if a player has the 3, 2, and ace of a single suit (called “Napoli”), or if he has three 3s, three 2s, or 3 aces, he may call “Buon Gioco” (good game) which awards his team an extra three points at the end of the round. Upon declaration of “Buon Gioco.” the opposing team may ask the player what his buon gioco is. If asked, the player MUST declare the cards that make up his buon gioco before the start of the 4th trick (ex. “three aces – all but the ace of coins” or “Napoli in cups”). If he fails to declare his buon gioco before the 4th trick, his team is not awarded the bonus points. If the opposing team fails to ask, he does not need to reveal his buon gioco.
Communication Rules: Tresette is known as il gioco dei muti (the game of mutes) because it’s considered cheating to communicate with your partner. No special signals or motions are allowed. There is one exception: the player who leads the trick may make one statement about the suit that he plays.
- “Volo” – I fly. Means that it is your last card in that suit.
- “Ho l’asso” – I have the ace.
- “Ho altre 3 lisci” – I have another 3 low cards (in this suit). Could be used with any number.
- “E’ buono” – it’s good. Means that the led card is the highest remaining in that suit.
Instead of revealing what you have, you may instead choose to command something of your partner.
- “Voglio il tre” – I want the 3. If your partner has the 3 of that suit, he should play it. Basically, it implies that you have the 2 & the Ace; with the 3 out of play, your 2 and ace are the highest cards in that suit.
- Similarly, “Voglio il due” – I want the 2 – implies that you have the 3 and the ace.
- “Gioca il meglio che hai” – Play the highest you’ve got. Your partner will play their best card and if they take the trick, they should return with the same suit.
While it’s an opportunity to tell your partner what you do and don’t have in your hand, you need to be careful not to reveal too much information because your opponents are listening too. There are situations in which it’s best not to say anything and just see how the cards play out.
And that’s Tresette!
The beauty of the game isn’t in the rules, it’s in the strategy. A good memory is crucial – you must pay attention to how many and which cards of each suit have been played.
Since the aces are the most valuable, the strategy revolves around playing the aces when you know your team will take the trick. If you know your partner is void in a suit, lead with the highest remaining card (saying “e’ buono”) and it will give him an opportunity to dump an ace of a different suit and score a point for your team. Likewise, if you have the two & ace of a suit, and the opponent leads and says “ho il 3”, then you can safely play your ace knowing that it’ll take the trick.
But don’t forget all the other cards that’ll earn points as well. If you’re void, don’t throw away a page boy unless you know your partner will take the trick. That card is still worth 1/3 a point, and all those little thirds add up!!
Now let’s go back to that evening that Eugenio “offered to teach me how to play a classic Italian card game”…imagine trying to learn the new deck of cards as well as the rules in the same evening. All in a foreign language. I had no idea what I had signed up for and to be honest, there were moments where I had to hold back tears out of sheer frustration. But Eugenio, patient and loving as always, has since played hundreds of games (the two-player version), always walking me through the strategy and explaining my errors or incorrect assumptions. I won’t say I’m a master, that would be his brother, Jonny. But I will say the realization that I had grown confident in my ability as a Tresette player was a moment I will never forget. A moment of utter triumph in my conquest to immerse myself in a foreign culture and language.
A quick way to earn an Italian’s respect is to tell them you know how to play “Tresette.” A favorite among old men and commonly played during the holiday festivities, this is not just a card game. It’s a fierce competition in which the smallest error, be it a memory lapse or bad assumption, can result in endless agony.
I love cards and board games, just ask my neighbor growing up. We spent all our rainy days battling in games of Gin Rummy, Monopoly, and Poker (remember what life was like for a kid before the internet?!?!?). So when Eugenio offered to teach me how to play a classic Italian card game, I naturally jumped at the offer. But before I could learn the game, I had to learn the cards. Should be simple, right?
We aren’t dealing with clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades anymore. Oh no, that would have been too easy. We’ve got the Italian deck which has Denaro (coins), Bastone (clubs/sticks), Spade (swords), and Coppe (cups).
And you know how our decks of cards give you the hint in the upper right and lower left corners? The number and symbol so that you don’t need to see the whole card to know what you’re holding? Yeah, you can forget about those too. Non-existent.
The card makers love to mess with you by adding all sorts of random décor, just to distract you from being able to determine the value of the card. The ace of swords comes complete with a flying angel and ribbons while the ace of coins would makes his debut on the breast of an eagle. Um, what?
And don’t even get me started on this card:
There are 4 clearly visible swords plus an additional horizontal sword in the center. But what are those other half-swords popping out of the two vases??!?!? Are they plants or swords??!?! Why on earth are they blue?!?!?! I can’t tell you how many times I thought I was playing the 7 of swords when really it was this damn 5.
Are we having fun yet?
So rather than 52 cards, there are only 40. Ten to each suit. Ace through 7 and then the Italian equivalent of Jack, Queen and King…which I’ve affectionately nicknamed Page Boy, Horse Man, and King. The Italians just call them “8, 9, and 10.” While the horse man is easy to identify since he’s got his four-legged friend, the page boy and king are confusing. Hint: you have to take a look at their headgear. Only the king wears a crown, the page boys are stuck with feathers.
Quick review: we’ve got well-decorated aces through sevens, page boys, horsemen, and kings in swords, cups, sticks, and coins. Right. And now that we’re all thoroughly confused, we can start to learn the rules of Tresette. To be continued…
April 8, 2013: A.S. Roma vs. S.S. Lazio, 20:45
Ask any Romano what he was doing last night, and I guarantee he’d look at you as if you were crazy. It’s a stupid question with an obvious answer. Last night was “il Derby.”
Technically, the term is applied to any game between two teams of the same city. Northern Italy has the Inter vs. Milan Derby and the Juventus vs. Torino Derby. But in the capital city, there is only one Derby worth talking about: the matchup between A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio. Both teams call Rome’s Stadio Olimpico their home stadium; the Laziali occupy Curva Nord and the Romanisti claim the Curva Sud. The curve you choose is a lifelong decision that defines you.
“Ciao, mi chiamo Katie, ho 29 anni, e tifo la Roma.” Hi, my name is Katie, I’m 29 years old, and I support AS Roma.
This rivalry runs deep in the blood of Roman veins. To a Romanista, there is no greater insult than “Sei proprio della Lazio” – you truly support Lazio. I’m sure there’s a similar insult for a Laziale, but I’m not friends with anyone who wears sky blue and white…so I couldn’t tell you.
The Roman Derby not just a game, it is THE game. It’s an opportunity to prove who is the dominate team of the Capitale. The years of unwavering dedication and love for your team combined with a deep-rooted loathing of the “other” team, means that the Derby is 90 minutes of sweating, screaming, cussing, nail-biting, hair-pulling, stress and frustration. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows so close together, I’m convinced that it’s going to give me a heart attack, or at least take a few years off my life.
Last night’s Derby was no exception. In the 15th minute of the first half, Lazio’s Hernanes scored to give Lazio the lead in the first half. A missed penalty kick by the same Hernanes in the second half gave new life to Roma. Less than 10 minutes later, we had a breakaway and the last Lazio defender committed a foul against our forward – automatic penalty kick for Roma! And with that, our beloved Capitano Francesco Totti, a 36-year-old demi-God who has worn a Roma jersey his entire career and can do no wrong, set yet another record: 9 career Derby goals.
To give just a hint of the fanaticism of a Romanista, compare the reaction of commentator Carlo Zampa when Hernanes scored to his reaction when Totti scored. You don’t need to speak Italian to understand who he’s rooting for:
Much to the frustration of all tifosi (fans), this Derby ended in a 1-1 draw. A bit of a let-down, but it does set everything up nicely for the end of the season as both teams are in the running for the Coppa Italia – Italy Cup – a single round, knockout tournament played by Italian teams from all levels (Serie A, Serie B, and Serie C). The winner gets the Cup title and a ticket to next year’s Europa League.
The final is played at Stadio Olimpico, regardless of the teams, but this year there is a very strong possibility that we’ll see another Derby for the Coppa Italia title. With Lazio’s win over Juventus in January, they secured their spot in the Final. On April 17th, AS Roma faces off with Inter. In the event that (read “when”) Roma wins, the Coppa Italia Final on May 26th will be yet another Derby. Please pray for my health.
La Befana (Americana)
La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Con il vestito alla romana
Viva viva la Befana!**
We decided to throw party for all the neighborhood kids last night and yours truly played the role of La Befana, an old haggard woman who goes from house to house delivering stockings full of candy (if you’ve been good) or coal (if you’ve been bad).
A loud *CRACK*, a cloud of smoke, and a flash of red light announced my arrival on the terrazza. I got off my broomstick and dragged my sack into the kitchen where nearly 20 kids waited eagerly for their stocking which, by magic, had their names written on them. Half woman, half witch, La Befana is old, extremely ugly, and known for startling children by coughing and sneezing when they attempt to give her a kiss…which they must do in order to receive their stocking.
This was by far my favorite of the Italian Feste during the Christmas Season, and it’s really too bad that La Befana never made it into American culture. I know a few dads & uncles who would leap at the opportunity to dress up as an ugly witch and scare little kids!
**Translation: La Befana comes at night with completely broken shoes and Roman dress. Long live La Befana!! As with most poetry, this chime is ten times better in its original language.
Last weekend, Marino threw a party and everyone was invited. The tiny, medieval town 20 minutes outside Rome hosted its annual Sagra dell’Uva – Grape Festival – in honor and celebration of the Battle of Lepanto (1571). How that relates to grapes or wine, I have no idea. But if there’s one thing Italians know how to do, it’s throw a street party.
Local vendors set up stands offering porchetta (a regional specialty), arrosticini (grilled lamb skewers), cheeses, cookies, and of course wine…lots and lots of wine. On Sunday afternoon, after a weekend full of jousting tournaments and parades, all attention is turned to the central piazza as thousands wait anxiously for the “Miracle of the Fountain.” Water turns into wine, literally, and chaos ensues. The thirsty crowd, armed with plastic cups, pushes their way toward the front hoping to get their share of the golden nectar.
I know, I know…Only in Italy.
While a very healthy glass of wine could be purchased for 50 cents at any of the stands surrounding the piazza, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drink wine directly from a city fountain. Eugenio and I braved the masses and we squeezed our way to the front to take part in the miracle. And believe me, the happiness of holding a half liter bottle of fountain-wine was worth every minute of the panic and fear of being trampled!!
Marino’s Sagra dell’Uva goes back to 1925, with the most infamous year being 2008…the countdown to the miracle…10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1 AND………………..water. Imagine the disappointment on the faces in the crowd and the embarassment of city officials as this miraculous fountain ends up giving water. A few minutes later, a woman ran to her balcony overlooking the piazza and screamed “Miracolo!!” A plumbing error resulted in wine flowing into the pipes of neighboring houses instead of the main fountain.
Marino, where wine is so abundant that it flows from your kitchen sink!!!
Question: What do 13 Italian men do in the back room of a café/bar from 10pm-2am on a Thursday night? Yes, it’s perfectly legal…and no, it has nothing to do with the mafia (at least I don’t think so, though I’m learning that the mafia is a part of everything in this country).
Answer: They draft their FantaCalcio teams.
Seasonal depression hits Italian men hard during the summer months. The heat, the humidity, the mosquitoes, and even the tourists would all be bearable but for the fact that there is no soccer from mid-June until late-August. No Sunday or Wednesday games. No Champions League. No betting. No Derbys (games between rival teams). What is a poor tifoso – fan – to do but slip into a state of utter apathy? In fact, it must have been clinically advised by American doctors to overlap the football, basketball, and baseball seasons so that no American man would have to suffer this between-season slump.
But all is not lost!! August comes and the country shuts down for vacation. After a week or three of soaking up all that this Mediterranean sun has to offer, Italians return home to prepare for the FantaCalcio draft. These soccer fanatics dedicate hours upon hours to the careful study and assessment of the 450+ players in Serie A – Italy’s highest national league. I imagine that this transition from absolute ambivalence to freakish obsession is the #1 cause of autumn breakups, marital disputes, shirked responsibilities and missed appointments in the country.
If only girlfriends and wives could understand the significance of the FantaCalcio draft! It cannot be underestimated; you’re bound to its outcome for the entire season. And in your tight circle of friends, cousins, and brothers, any mistake will likely haunt you for an eternity. My poor boyfriend is still the butt of numerous jokes for a player his “co-manager” chose several years ago – a no-name rookie who was believed to be “a secret weapon.” This player proceeded to enter his first Serie A game, played horribly, and remained on the bench for the rest of the season, a dead weight his FantaCalcio team. Despite the years that have passed, I’ve witnessed numerous occasions in which, one way or another, this player’s name comes up and everyone has a good laugh at Eugenio’s expense.
Sidenote: he has since decided to fly solo and manage his own team.
But back to the draft. Being the ragazza of the bar’s owner certainly has its advantages. In addition to cappucini with my name written in chocolate syrup, I was granted “press access” to this intense, testosterone-only, annual FantaCalcio draft.
The object of the evening was to place 26 players on each of the 8 FantaCalcio teams – 208 players total…TWO HUNDRED EIGHT!! Given that number, it should come as no surprise that the research and analysis starts weeks in advance. These guys carefully create their strategy, giving every desired player an appropriate value and maximum purchase price; after all, with a limited amount of money, it might be prudent to pass on a phenomenal player if you can get 2 or 3 great players for the same amount.
Next, each manager needed to decide which players from last year’s team he wants to keep. A responsible manager should evaluate each player’s performance, age, health, attitude (red/yellow cards count against you), and liklihood of seeing a lot of playing time. In order to keep a player, the manager must pay the same price as last year. All other players are sent back to the market as free agents. Once the market is set and everyone knows which players are available for purchase, the draft begins. Each team has 800 “euro” to spend (likely representing 800,000 euro), less the amount paid to keep players from the previous season.
Starting with goalkeepers, one at a time a manager calls out the name of a player – any goalkeeper on any Serie A team. It’s then an auction process, and the player goes to the highest bidder. The next manager calls a goalkeeper of his choice and there’s another bidding session. This continues in a circle until every coach has 4 keepers on his team. At this point, it’s time for a cigarette and definitely an espresso…the night is young and we still have 176 players to go..
After strategies have been assessed and tempers calmed, the bidding process starts for the defense. Same protocol as before until every team has 8 defenders. Another cigarette, another espresso. Then the auction for 8 midfielders…smoke and/or caffinate…and lastly 6 forwards.
Finally every manager has his dream team. Sleep deprived, red-eyed and mentally exhausted they leave the bar holding onto the hope that this year is going to bring them glory and bragging rights. And thus begins the FantaCalcio season, a “friendly” competition which lasts the duration of the season and just another reason why Italians are out-of-their-minds obsessed with the sport.
I have a lot to thank my grandmother for: my height, my love of crossword puzzles, my addiction to travel, my thirst for knowledge, and my appreciation of a good stiff drink. One thing I am less than thrilled about is my fair, Irish skin. Sure, I can build up a tan, but it takes several weeks (if not months) of patient sunscreen application…slowly but surely working my way from SPF 50+ to 30 to 20 and finally to 15. I will let Nivea thank my grandmother for that.
While I can’t partake in the #1 Italian Summer Pastime (spending hours at the beach worshipping the sun gods), I am lucky in that the Roman beaches are also fantastic at night. A quick ride on the trenino will take you to Ostia, and to a boardwalk packed with people taking a passeggiata – evening stroll. Stop by any of the beachfront establishments to enjoy a drink, dinner, or discoteca.
If you’re looking for a mellow evening and just want to chill on the sand with a group of amici, head to Vittoria Beach Bar. The bar itself is a mere 15 feet from the sea, and they’ve wisely chosen to keep their umbrellas open and lounge chairs out all night. Throw in some good music and the sound of Mediterranean waves and you have yourself a little slice of heaven. Let’s just say it’s swiftly becoming my late-night favorite.
And who wants to do laundry on a Sunday night when you can go to Apericena at Tibidabu Beach? It’s an aperitivo, turned into dinner – 15 euro gets you a drink and access to an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet, complete with prosciutto, salami, pizza, grilled veggies, and pastas. Once you’ve had your fill, head to the dance floor which really gets going at 10pm. Romans of all ages, shapes, and sizes get their groove on to the best of the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. It is pretty much impossible not to dance when you see a 70+ year old man imitate his teenage grandson doing the YMCA. The fun ends at midnight, and you’re at home and asleep by 1am. A perfect way to end the weekend.
p.s. I am fully adjusted to the Italian practice of eating dinner at 9pm (or later), going to sleep at 1am, and waking up at 8am. In the case of a later-than-usual night, or one-too-many drinks, well…that’s what cappuccini are for.
The 26th of December is often a bit of a let down in America, all this excitement and energy building up to Christmas and then in the blink of an eye it’s finished. Over the following week, lights and decorations are taken down, store displays are back to normal, and the Noble Fir is removed from the Endangered Species list.
Not in Italy, oh no. Christmas lights, markets, nativity scenes, and trees are left exactly as they were on December 25th. There really are 12 days of Christmas you see, and Italians remain in the Christmas spirit for all 12 days until January 6th, the Epiphany – the arrival of the Three Kings (of Orient are, bearing gifts, they’ve traversed afar) in Bethlehem.
And what Catholic holiday is complete without a middle-of-the-night-down-the-chimney visit from an imaginary figure?
Enter La Befana, an old woman with a crooked smile. For many Italian children, including my 24-year old Roman roommate, the excitement and anticipation of La Befana’s visit greatly exceeds that of Babo Natale – Santa Claus.
On the eve of the Epiphany, she arrives barefoot via broomstick and she enters every child’s house through the chimney, seeking the newborn Son of God. While Babo Natale places gifts under the tree, he leaves the task of stuffing the stockings to La Befana: a lump of coal for naughty children and candy for good children.
This morning, I woke up to find my very first stocking from La Befana, even she recognizes that I am becoming more a part of this culture every day.
And yes, I’ve been good this year.
Via dei Condotti is by far the most expensive street in Rome. It is where the Armani, Gucci, Fendi and Prada mannequins face off, looking as if they’ve just stepped off the runway (and yes, they are judging you for your knock-off jeans/purse/boots/whatever).
However, on the first Saturday of December, it welcomes visitors of all brands and sizes to participate in the festivities as it kicks off the holiday shopping season, complete with the Carabinieri (military police) marching band. The shops collectively choose a particular company as their “theme” for decorations; Mercedes-Benz has that honor this year.
Over 400 stores around the historic center have chosen to participate in “Roma in Luce” – Rome in Lights – and the city simply spectacular. With chestnuts roasting on every corner, Christmas trees in every piazza, and mulled wine offered at aperitivo, it’s hard not to be in the Christmas spirit.
Rome is intoxicating in any season, but it truly pulls out all the stops in autunno – autumn. Crisp mornings give way to gorgeous sunny afternoons. Sleek sandals are upgraded to sexy leather boots. Necks of women and men are decorated with scarves – Italians are convinced that a bare neck (or sock-less feet) in cold weather will cause illness. And let’s not forget the fruits of the harvest – wine, olive oil, and veggie galore – pumpkin ravioli, eggplant parmesan, spinach gnocchi, and carciofi alla romana (artichoke stuffed with mint, parsley, and garlic). It’s too easy for me to get carried away, but one stroll along the Tiber River and you’ll understand why autumn is my favorite season in Rome.
Italians dine late, usually starting around 9pm and even later during the summer. Many guidebooks recommend going to a restaurant around 7:00pm to ensure you have a table; what they don’t tell you is that it is because the restaurant is a ghost town at this hour. So how is it that Italians can last so long between lunch and dinner? Aperitivo.
It is my favorite time of day, the Italian equivalent of Happy Hour. It lasts for several hours between work and dinner in at most bars in every Italian town. The process is simple: walk in, order a drink, grab a plate and help yourself to whatever is at the bar. Salami, fresh bread, a variety of spreads, chips, nuts, cheeses, olives, etc. Sit at a table on the piazza, chat with a friend, and enjoy. Feel free to grab seconds. All for the price of a cocktail, which can be as cheap as 2.00€. For a backpacker, this is as cheap as dinner gets.
My favorite aperitivo (photo above) thus far was in Portovenere, a small coastal town 30km south of the more famous Cinque Terre. Stunning scenery, gorgeous sunset, a calm sea, and a great aperitivo overlooking it all – another little Italian slice of heaven.
Italian families usually have a few 5-liter glass jugs that they take to a cantina to fill with wine for the week. It basically cuts out the middleman, so the wine goes straight from the barrel to the table. It is local, it’s cheap (8 euro for 5 liters), and it’s damn good.
Chianti, Brunello, Barbaresco, Barolo…these aren’t names of Roman Emporers, but given the importance of wine to Italians, they might as well be. L’aqua fa male, il vino fa cantare – Water makes one sick, wine makes one sing. Buon vino fa buon sangue – Good wine makes good blood. The Italian proverbs on the topic of wine are endless. And last night, I had the opportunity to witness first hand the intensity of this dedication to wine for the average Italian family.
Tonja had taken the kids to a Start-of-Summer party and I had opted out, choosing instead to spend some time on my own in Lucca. I met Simone (father) at the train station and we drove back to Castelvecchio, stopping briefly for an aperitivo (pre-dinner drink) and a chat before heading home to the madness.
It was just after 19:45 when we left the bar and as we neared the bottom of the hill to Castelvecchio, Simone received a phone call from Tonja…after a cheery “Pronto” to answer the call, Simone received the worst news possible. Everyone was safe, and dinner was almost ready, but we were out of wine. I smiled to myself in amusement as I listened to the conversation, and I prepared myself for a fun car ride.
Italians are crazy drivers, but I have never seen anything like this. We whipped around turns, Simone cranking the wheel with all his might right and then left…he floored it as we passed slow-moving vehicles around blind corners. This was no laughing matter, we were about to have una cena senza vino – a dinner without wine.
Stop #1 – “Dio Madonna, e’ gia chiuso.” The nearest mom & pop store that sells wine had already closed for the evening. After a brief pause for cussing and a U-Turn, we were back on the road in a race against time. The clock read 19:58, and the nearest large grocery store was a few kilometers down the road. The next option was Euro Spar – a large grocery store by European standards, but Simone was virtually positive it closes promptly at 20:00. Insert more cussing, this time in Lucchese dialect, but I didn’t need to know the words to understand their meaning. We were approaching a situation of catastrophic proportion.
Stop #2 –The lights in the Euro Spar were already dimmed and the entrance was locked. “Dio Maiale, e’ chiuso!” Closed. Weather forecast: cloudy with a chance of sobriety.
But what was this? A customer exiting the store? A glimmer of hope? Simone sprang out of the car and raced to the exit before the automatic doors could shut him out. Two minutes later, Simone came out like a champion holding his prized trophy – a 1.5 liter bottle of Tuscan house red. We were saved!!! Hallelujah!
When I asked Simone what the employee said to him when he entered through the exit he said, “Lei era Italiana, quindi ha capito.” She was Italian, so she understood.