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Even in the Morning She Only Thinks of Flirting

Where Brazilians wear ponchos rather than bikinis: in the mountainous regions of Brazil, there are still real gauchos living who raise cattle but are not cowboys. And with a bit of luck you might even meet the "glorious three".

By Inka Wichmann

Sugar cane schnapps sloshes in a jam jar. In the barn it smells of smoke. In one corner a fire is blazing, a branding iron is glowing. André, Hermani and Karim Macari clap, whistle, hoot - they want to drive a cattle into the wooden crate. "Hey, hey, hey!" they shout. But the clatter of hooves drown out their cries. When all the clapping, whistling and jeering is useless, one of the gauchos reaches for a broomstick. Loud mooing, even louder muttering. But the animal stumbles into the shed, the gate closes. Three more men stand ready.
The first one puts a syringe: vaccination. The second presses the red-hot iron into the fur: branding. The third trims the horns with a blood-soaked saw. When the gate opens, the cattle rushes away. Again everyone gets ready. "Ho, ho, ho!" they yell. It's a long night ahead of the Macari brothers in Bom Jardim da Serra.
Three brothers, three times wide hips, three times high boots: André, Hermani and Karim Macari take care of the farm that the family has been running for a hundred years. One hundred and fifty cattle, eighty sheep, thirty horses - plus two hundred and fifty hectares of land. This is not enough to feed three families. So the men work during the week as landscape engineers, lawyers and environmental managers. But standing in the barn on a Saturday night. All three sipping beer. At some point, their stomachs rumble. When a woman sticks her head into the barn, there is only one question: When, what, where should we eat? But then one of the men puts on a leather apron, one sharpens the butcher's knife, one pokes the wood fire. The brothers quickly have to castrate sixty small bulls.
The mountainous area of Santa Catarina is the frostiest region in Brazil. Here, just under a hundred kilometers from the coast, a cool wind blows in summer and snow sometimes falls in winter. Then the hoarfrost bites hard, and at 10 degrees Celsius below zero some waterfalls freeze in the canyons. The fact that the pharmacy sells "Lipo Life Summer Tea" with strawberry flavor for the beach figure does not change anything: here it is better to wear poncho than bikini.
We know almost everything about cowboys. The self-rolled cigarettes hang in the corner of the mouth, the felt hats down to the eyebrows. Howard Hawks made sure of that with "Red River", shot in 1948, in which an unyielding John Wayne wants to move from bitterly poor Texas to the better-off Missouri... with 10,000 head of cattle. Since then, we have had images in our minds of river crossings with huge herds and of stampeds, where plenty of dust is kicked up under hooves. But it is not only freedom-loving cattle herders who have been moving through the north, but also through the south of the continent. Only no Howard Hawks ever put a monument to them.
If you want to know what makes the gauchos tick, you have to visit the gauchos. The number one difference to Howard Hawks' cowboys is that they don't want to give up their family; on the contrary - the other members of the family work with them. The mother of the Macari brothers huddles in a burgundy red sweater and flowered cloth next to the fire, on her knees a list on which she enters the animals. Seven cattle crowd into a corner. "Pff, pff, pff", the helpers say. The lasso flies: The hemp rope wraps around a pair of front legs. The cattle sink into the dust. The hooves kick, the body trembles as a gaucho throws himself on the animal. First he takes another sip of beer. Then he rolls up his sleeves and pulls out his knife. Another helper hands him a bowl of salt. The mother scribbles a hook on the list.
Howard Hawks' cowboy never said a word about matters of the heart. And not even about his self-conception as a cowboy would he have chatted around the campfire. The gauchos of the present day, on the other hand - difference number two - like to talk about the gauchoism - especially Ivan Cascaes, a neighbour of the Macari brothers who lives twenty minutes away by car. He has settled at the highest point of the Serra do Rio d Rastro, where he opened the "Rio do Rastro Eco Resort". Now he slides his chair close to the open fireplace. Here, at a height of fifteen hundred metres, the temperature has dropped to five degrees Celsius. The wood smoulders. In his back hangs a painting showing a fazenda, a cattle farm.
The gaucho, says Ivan Cascaes, is originally a cattle herder who lives outside the settlements. His belongings include a lasso, a knife and a horse that can carry him across the plateau for two weeks, almost without rest, almost without food. The gaucho does not care about possessions. His freedom is more important to him, his love is for the country. He comes when he wants; he goes when he wants. Ivan Cascaes has meanwhile risen from his chair with the sheepskin to make his words heard. He is standing in the middle of the room, in the plaid shirt and the big hat. Of course, the gaucho also gambles, fights and drinks. But he is a support to his friends, kind-hearted, helpful, reliable. That's the myth. But not many gauchos still catch cattle today, he says, and are on their way in the almost endless wilderness. But they cherish other traditions, for example music.
Like Ivan Cascaes. While the Macari brothers are still working on the farm, he sets up a small stage, sets up a drum and gets a bottle of red wine. Next to him two musicians get ready: One takes a guitar, the other an accordion. The guests shiver at the tables. A dog has laid down so close to the fire that the embers fly into his fur. Chicken hearts are cooking on the grill, which a cook sprinkles with salt. "Even in the morning she only thinks of flirting," sings the group around Ivan Cascaes into the microphone. "She wakes up with make-up on and even in the morning she only thinks of flirting." With knee breeches and leather boots, hoop skirt and lace scarf, a couple whirls across the dance floor. A bit of folklore? Yes, a bit. But in the spirit of the gauchos.
No one can afford the Lonesome Cowboy anymore.
The cowboys of Howard Hawks flay their horses - sometimes they need two a day. The gauchos of today do not spare their horses either: Ivan Cascaes hands over his herd to tourists the next morning. The mud sucks at his hooves. Tiririca with grey-black mane and white-brown fur trots on the paddock and from the paddock to the lake. The fog wafts so thick that the riders can hardly make out the next branch under which they have to duck away. The left hand is on the knob, the right hand holds the reins. Like a real gaucho? Maybe. But the cowboy wouldn't do that. The knob is off limits, nobody touches it. It's for the lasso. So there's a difference? The third.
Ivan Cascaes taught the newcomer two commands: click his tongue and press his knees firmly into the horse's body - that's how it starts. Shout "Brr" and pull back the horse's neck with the reins, then the animal should stop. But while the other horses are walking, Tiririca gnaws at some branches; while the other horses are standing, Tiririca scurries into the fog.
The cowboy type, as Howard Hawks showed it, no longer exists. He had to realize that his salvation lies elsewhere, if one wants to speak of salvation. The gauchos of the present day are also rethinking: they can no longer rely on cattle breeding alone. Some turned to tourism, and farms became holiday homes.
Nobody can afford to play the Lonesome Cowboy. Of course Ivan Cascaes knows the souvenir shop assistants who sell woolly hats next to the gorge. He greets the neighbor farmer who is sitting in the café and drinking coffee with milk. And with his telephone, which rings every three and a half minutes, he keeps in close contact with the whole world - and is constantly organizing: A visit to the Immigration Museum? Quickly organized. A tasting at the winery? No problem. And he would love to send us to the biggest waterfalls in the area. But we are already on the bus, which will follow the switchbacks down to the coast. The driver turns on the radio. After a few beats he tunes in: "Santa Catarina, your people sing for us so that the sadness disappears; Santa Catarina, we thank you for the holy land." Cowboys could sing that too.
Information about Santa Catarina can be found on the Internet at
"Aventura do Brasil" (www.aventuradobrasil.de) offers trips to the region.
This trip was supported by both companies as well as the Santa&bela Catarina tourism authority and the Stuttgart trade fair CMT.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 10 July 2013