The Urban Cowboys of Porto Alegre
The brimmed hat covers the aging face, the light scarf distracts from the open shirt, the thick belt carries the crafted knife and the polished boots control the flowing pants. Both the outfit and the man are weathered, but well put together. Although he may stand out from a crowd on the busy city streets, he’s just as much a part of this community as anyone else walking by with a suit and tie. Like in other parts of Southern South America, the people of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul and its capital of Porto Alegre, are affectionately referred to as gauchos (ga-ouh-shas). Traditional gauchos were known to be horse riding, free living, ranchers like American cowboys, who were always on the move. Despite the rural lifestyle, the gaucho spirit is firmly rooted within the city and there are two things above all that showcase the marriage between traditional and modern.
The first signs of this hybrid lifestyle are evident within the hands of most locals. Whether at the office or in a park, the scene is consistent; a large wooden cup with bright green powder and long metal straw, pressed close to the heart, literally and figuratively. Someone pours water into the cup, drinks from the straw and than repeats or passes to the next person. This is the ritual known as Chimarrao. I became familiar with the chimarrao (or drinking mate) while living in Argentina, but there are a few differences between the Brazilian and Argentine style. The first is the size of the cup, it’s much bigger than those typically found in Argentina or Uruguay. The second is the color of the mate. I’ve known the yerba mate as a dark green tea, but here in Brazil, it’s a vibrant lime color. Otherwise, like many gaucho regions, chimarrao is an essential part of everyday life here in Porto Alegre. To act like a local, I went down to the central market and picked up all the necessary components to practice the ritual myself.
The second major example of gaucho life here in Porto Alegre isn’t limited to this region at all. In fact, the meaty deliciousness known as the churrasco has become a global sensation. By now I’m sure most people are familiar with this dining process – waiters come by with an endless supply of succulent meats while you attempt keep up. Although it has been duplicated all over the world now, there is clearly something different about experiencing all the meaty goodness straight from the source. It’s a variety of juicy steaks, plump pork sausages, rich chicken hearts, and juicy pineapples, all grilled to perfection over a wood-fired brick oven. Yum! It’s an orgy of absolute deliciousness that helped me understand why gauchos wear such loose fitting pants.
These are just two examples of how the gaucho spirit shines through such a modern city. It’s not a tourist attraction; it’s a way of life for those ranchers who travel into the city. Hopefully, future generations will carry on the carnivorous and caffeinated customs, and do it with dress code intact.