60. Tombola

Tombola is a Southern Italian game, played especially around Christmas. Invented in Naples in the 18th century, it looks like Bingo to American eyes, the object being to fill the squares on one’s card as numbers are called out. But here’s what’s special about it.

Each of the numbers is associated with a person or object or concept. Some are everyday things or people; others are religious; and still others are racy. When the caller calls out the number, it is followed by whatever is associated with that number.  For example, 49 is a piece of meat; 43 is the woman on the balcony; 33 is the years of Christ; 22 is il pazzo, the crazy man. Italians know the meanings of all these numbers by heart, as did my father when we played on Christmas Eve at my house.

On a recent trip to Naples, I was able to buy a tombola set. Not only is it illustrated, but it has the associated words in both proper Italian and Neapolitan dialect.IMG_0004IMG_0005

So now, I force everyone to ante up a quarter and play at our Feast of the Seven Fishes. My daughter Maria, who speaks the best Italian of all of us, calls out the numbers and the words, and we have the added “fun” of trying to figure out the translation. IMG_4230This year, Maria won the six quarters. If we were true Neapolitans, who tend to see plots and conspiracies everywhere, we would find it highly suspect that the caller won the pot.IMG_4246



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