August 10, 2009
Matkot is the name of the game. Matkot is named after the matka, or racquet. Many Israeli’s claim it is their country’s national sport. Outside Israel, people call it beach tennis. It is popular in places where there is a strong beach culture, like Brazil. Italians are especially fond of the game; not only do they play it, De Cecco makes pasta in the shape of racchette.
My devotion to the racquetta, as we call it in Greece, began last summer, while vacationing in the Motherland. I fell for it on one of the Dodecanese Islands where Italians still have an interminable presence, even though it has been independent since the 1940s. Had it not been for the fact that I arrived on the 15th of August, when Greeks put on a huge celebration in honor of Panagia, the mother of Jesus, I might have thought I was in Italy.
During Panagia, the party goes on for most of the night. I found myself, after hours of dancing surrounded by some insipid Italiani, collapsed on the beach. The night sky was magnificent. I lay there listening to little waves lap up on the shore, grateful for all my blessings. While fondling the sand, I unearthed an abandoned wooden racquet. Soon my friends called me back to the dance floor. I took the racquet with me. I discovered the racquet was not only a great paddle, but also a delightful way of amusing myself, and insulting Italians. I would wave my racquet in the air while shouting Viva Il Duce. This didn”t make me very popular, until I began administering spankings. Mind you, I am not a sadist, nor am I aroused by such games. But, I have come upon a fine little toy that has made me a few new friends. Actually, when they get a little whack on the bottom, most people smile and say thank you. Many come back for more. Sometimes, the racquet leads to love.
The rules of the game, as I have come to understand them, are simple. Go to a beach town, preferably Greek, and pick up a stray racquet. When you see someone you want to talk to, or that looks interesting, give him or her a little whack on the butt as they pass by. Always offer a smile. The laughs follow shortly thereafter. Soon you will be recognized in the street and will have lots to talk about. Unfortunately, on any given night, a handful of people have absolutely no idea how to react to the matka, and whatever nonsense the player happens to be uttering. They will do their best to ignore you. I don”t keep score, but for more competitive types, this would be considered a loss.
I can”t imagine a little flagellation ever really hurt anyone, but as I have discovered, some lack a sense of humor about these things. Once or twice I have been aggressively insulted. When I have been unable to charm my way out of trouble, wielding the racquet, a crazed look, and a shout, usually cools the crackpot. Thankfully, I have yet to be beaten with my own racquet.
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