Yesterday marked David’s and my wedding anniversary. Six years! But, no, we didn’t have a romantic tete a tete in a nice Spanish restaurant, or stroll through a new city, or even take a nice stroll down memory lane. Instead, we were playing Bingo – with my mother-in-law (who just arrived from Paris and is staying with us for the month). And it wasn’t the stress free, just-for-fun kind of Bingo. This was serious stuff and we were playing for serious money – between 300 and 600 euros each round, depending on the pot. We even got carded in the entrance! Walk into any pub or discotheque here and they could care less. But come to play a round of Bingo and you not only get carded, but they record all kinds of information about you.
Barely had we sat down at a table of six in a room of at least 100 when we were given our first round of Bingo cards at 1.50 euros a piece. Embedded into the glass top table in front of us was a screen showing the current ball and previous numbers called. “What sophistication,” I thought! But I barely had time to grab a pen and get a bearing of my surroundings when the round got underway. And get underway, it did. Instead of being a nice slow-paced round of Bingo fun as I imagined, it was a frenzied race to keep up with the numbers. They were being called out at such a neck-breaking speed that it didn’t even account for breathing time, and I raced to check my card for corresponding matches. But with my elementary Spanish, just making sense of the numbers was a monumental challenge. It was my worst nightmare – not only was money at risk, but I couldn’t even keep up to see if I had won.
By round two, David had confiscated my card and was checking his and mine simultaneously. By round three, I pulled out, content to treat Bingo as a spectator sport and sit back while David and Luisa played. Admittedly, I am not much of a Bingo player. Perhaps, Bingo is a rapid sport in the US as well. But my one previous experience playing Bingo for money was just before my grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration in Canada and, there, you could have taken a siesta between numbers, it was so slow. Here it was stressful and heart pounding and the people playing were playing for money.
Relieved of the responsibility of having my own Bingo card, I turned my attention elsewhere. The woman across from me was playing five at a time and I marveled at her ability to check so many cards at the same time. This was either an innate skill or an acquired one that cost a lot of money to obtain. But watching her was too stressful especially as round after round passed and she didn’t win once. I next turned my attention to the woman diagonal. She had her own unique system of keeping track of the numbers. Before each round, she prepared by tearing up little squares and writing each number that was on her card on a square. Certainly, if I was to become a pro Bingo player, I would need a similar kind of system. And I watched in agony as David waited for one final number to be called. Unfortunately, someone was waiting for another number which, only naturally, was called first.
As it turns out, Bingo is a favorite past time in Spain and is a destination spot for Luisa every time she comes to Spain on vacation. In fact, she only just arrived on Saturday night and she was already asking whether Torreviejo had a Bingo hall before we went to bed that night. So even though our anniversary was on Sunday, and the last thing I thought I would be doing on my anniversary was playing Bingo, it was the consequence of bad timing and there was no keeping my mother-in-law away. In any case, it was a place that I had to see before being able to say that I live in Spain.
And I suppose Bingo is preferable to the casinos (which are abundant here) or the slot machines (there’s at least one in each bar), so I won’t complain. The Spaniards are so smitten by gambling that if you enter a Bingo hall, a casino, or the corner of a bar with the slot machine, you’ll wonder what everyone’s referring to when they talk about the crisis.
After about a half hour of playing and quite a lot of rounds since everything moves so rapidly, we pulled ourselves away and called it a night, leaving the 5-cards-at-a-time-playing-woman with her next round of five cards. We didn’t win, but, instead of counting our losses, I concentrated on what I had gained. I walked out of there with a crash course in Spanish counting. And, by the end, I was able to understand the numbers without even peeking at the spinning ball in front of me!