A rainy Saturday afternoon acts as the backdrop for my journey across town, which is a much-needed change from the dry, hot weather that has been present during our Gulf South autumn. My destination? Metairie. More specifically? No, not the Trader Joe’s or Target that are popular hangouts in the area, but instead a cultural institution that has brought the Italian and Italian American citizens of NOLA together for years. The Italian American Bocce Club of Greater New Orleans, a beacon of refuge from the rain located off of the I-10 in Metairie, is our oasis for the next hour and a half.
I’m here to support my friend and roommate, Maddie Mancuso, who invited me to a fundraiser event as a part of her “Italian for Business” class at Tulane. When we enter, we step immediately into a small kitchen where numerous people, young and old, whip around, making plates of Italian sausage, brisket, and eggplant parmesan. Maddie dons an apron as she dodges the older members of the club to get me a serving of vegetables. For a split second, I can imagine her as an older woman in her own kitchen, feeding a hungry group of children that may come in her future, producing various new takes on the Italian meals her family has eaten for generations.
“My Italian heritage means a lot to me because it makes me feel more connected to my family history and helps me to better understand my own identity,” Maddie tells me. I ask her if she has ever played the game of Bocce, which I am eager to understand the rules of. “Not before coming here to the Bocce Club. It’s easy to learn.”
She whips around to tend to a platter of italian sausages.
The space is large; a banquet hall full of spectators enjoying their meals sits next to several indoor bocce courts, only large floor-to-ceiling windows separating the two. I keep my eyes trained on the various balls that roll across the courts, fearful that if I make eye contact with one of the members, they will force me to play. Valentina Reyes, a Tulane student participating in the event and a fellow “Italian for Business” student, shared this sentiment at first, but now thrives in the semi-competitive atmosphere.
“Once you get a hang of the rules, it’s pretty hard not to join,” Valentina says. “The Bocce Club’s members never stop pushing newcomers to enjoy a little competition. It’s addictive to watch and soon enough you find yourself playing game after game.”
Although I don’t join in on any games– my lack of Italian heritage puts me at a clear disadvantage– it’s enthralling to watch the groups of players move from one end of the court to the other, over and over. There is a marriage of luck and precision when playing bocce, and many of these players have been perfecting their technique for decades.
Bocce ball has been around for thousands of years, with its first known documentation around 5200 B.C. While it’s heavily associated as an Italian game in modern times, it started as an Egyptian game, later spreading through the Middle East and Asia before becoming popularized by Giuseppe Garibaldi as a unification tactic to bring Italy together. According to Eataly– obviously the world’s most trusted resource for all things Italian– bocce ball is the third most played sport in the world. Honestly, I believe it. It’s easy, accessible, and doesn’t require that much equipment to get started. Whether you’re 13 or 103, bocce ball is a fun and easy way to pass the time, regardless of athletic ability.
The Italian American Bocce Club of Greater New Orleans has created a wonderful space and atmosphere for both those of Italian heritage and those just looking to get in on the bocce ball action.
“The Bocce Club is an important– and frankly underrated– establishment in New Orleans because it is constantly working to build a unified Italian American community. The Club is one of the few Italian cultural centers left in the city and it’s constantly encouraging the New Orleans community to learn about its long-standing Sicilian culture,” says Valentina.
“It’s one of the only physical spaces for Italian Americans to come together,” says Maddie. “It’s a way to connect with the Italian American community. The Bocce Club is a niche gathering place with a lot of history that should be preserved.”
Valentina strongly believes that more Tulane students, Italian or not, should make the pilgrimage to the Bocce Club, and I myself couldn’t agree with her more.
“I feel like a lot of Tulane students are so hesitant to step outside the campus bubble, but there are a lot of very unique places in New Orleans that are so welcoming and educational. I think if more students gave it a shot, they’d enjoy it,” she said.
Valentina, Maddie, and the rest of the “Italian for Business” class at Tulane University are looking to create an Italian Club in the near future. They also hope to put on more collaborative events with the Bocce Club in the coming semester.
The Club hosts “Open Bocce Nights” for members of the club and non-members alike. Priced at $5 for members and $8 for non-members, these nights are the perfect fun activity for you and your friends, without breaking the bank. They accept anyone of any playing level and they encourage single players to join in on the action. Sounds like a good time to me.
For more information about The Italian American Bocce Club of Greater New Orleans, you can visit their Facebook page, which can be found here. They post frequent updates about open nights and events! The Club is located at 2340 Severn Ave., Metairie, LA 70001.
Featured image via Mercedes Ohlen.
Mercedes was The Crescent’s Editor-in-Chief from 2022-2023. She graduated from Tulane with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. She enjoys going to the movies, fashion, and writing about the great city of New Orleans. She will be pursuing a career lifestyle journalism, publishing, or a job within comedy upon her graduation from Tulane. No topic is too obscure, and no story too niche. Roll Wave!