When it comes to cards, people tend to fall in two categories: the ones who love to play cards and those who couldn’t care less. I belong to the latter, unless my mother is around. My card skills are limited to games of solitaire which I eschewed decades ago when I found more interesting things to do with my hands. I gave poker a try, with extremely unsuccessful results and Gin Rummy grabbed me at some point in my youth, albeit for a brief period.
My mother is an avid card player. To me, canasta games meant her girlfriends coming over and some delicious finger food being served but, once my belly was full, I would skedaddle towards more interesting enterprises, such as watching tv. Besides, cards with “balls” instead of the usual suits didn’t grab my imagination. Enter Buraco – when my mom came to visit me in the States for the first time, with one of her girlfriends, our nightly activities were limited to dinner, with movies, theatre and any other English-speaking activities off-limits. Coming home from work, I would find them huddled at the kitchen table playing cards, having so much fun that I let them draw me into it.
Buraco is a Canasta related game born in Uruguay, of all places, in the 1940’s – the name is Portuguese for “hole” and my research didn’t yield any convincing explanations on why a game born in Uruguay acquired a Portuguese name and then became hugely popular in Italy, where they hold proper tournaments, with judges and rules manuals. Playing cards brings out my competitive side and I relish feeling my brain function in ways it doesn’t normally work. Most of all, I love the endless arguing, the sound of my mother’s voice reciting rules that I am sure she is making up to her advantage. We have been known to play into the wee hours, at the kitchen table – it becomes addictive. We will get home from a shopping adventure or some cultural sightseeing and I will demand a Buraco game. Once she leaves, I will forget all about it until next year, absolutely disinterested in teaching it to friends or trying to replicate the experience somewhere else. I guess it’s not really about the game but I can’t wait to come home from the cocktail reception that awaits us tonight, put on sweats and start dealing.