Bull riding: A piece of Brazilian carnivale on American soil
The writer regretted not attending a bull-riding event during her visit to Brazil
There are many differences between American cowboys and Brazilian ones
The event at Madison Square Garden was an overt display of American patriotism
A few years ago I went to Brazil to soak up some South American culture, but I was far too busy sampling 17 kinds of caipirinha and trying my luck fishing for porgies to check out one of the country's great national pastimes: bull riding.
When you're on the beach at Ipanema -- surrounded by caramel-colored bodies in bathing suits that look like confetti, the angular and breathtaking landscape of Rio de Janeiro jutting out of the mountains behind you, a happy cacophony of reggae, Bossa nova and samba whipping down the beach -- it's hard to imagine that Brazil breeds cowboys. Of course, one step into a churrascaria, where beef (and every other imaginable kind of digestible meat) is served off skewers until you say when, and you know, at the very least, it breeds cows.
I've always regretted skipping bull riding while I was in Brazil. So when the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Series came to Manhattan recently, I was eager to see what I'd missed. And, to understand the differences between American cowboys and Brazilian ones, I sat with a group of Brazilian ex-pats, high in the upper reaches of Madison Square Garden, which had been turned into a veritable ho-down for the weekend. One can only imagine what the New York Knicks would have made of the manure piles and haystacks that festooned their home.
My companion, Fabio Lenon, is a baby-faced, 22-year-old construction worker living in Greenwich, Conn. He's been in the U.S. for five years and grew up in Minas Gerais, a large state in the Brazilian Southeast, known for cattle ranching, iron mining, coffee production and some of the country's most impressive rivers. Today he is wearing a red and black Barretesao button-down shirt, tight black jeans and a black cowboy hat. And he is holding matching Bud Lights.
"Drinking is a must at bull riding," he tells me, in broken English, as I sip on bottled water. "It's supposed to be a party." I learn quickly that Fabio's bull-riding experience is not the "edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting, anxiety-ridden one" of other sporting events, in which you're following an athlete or a team nervously. On the contrary, his is meant to be a celebration -- of the cowboy, of the bull, and of the crazy dance they do in the ring.
Fabio prefers to stand for most of the competition, stomping his feet from time to time, tipping his hat to various bull riders, hollering and cheering in Portuguese with the five Brazilians who came with him. Occasionally he breaks to look my way, or sits down beside me to disapprove of my vantage point. "I don't like to sit," he said. "In Brazil everyone is standing up, dancing to music, having fun and drinking. Here, everyone sits. It's not the same." So I stand to please my companions and they try to engage me in a spontaneous samba, but my three-inch pumps are unforgiving. I must remember to wear boots next time.