- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
About 10 generations ago in South America a new race of men was born of Spanish fathers and Indian mothers—the latter taken in conquest or, perhaps, in acts of gallantry along the South American marches. From the mixture of Iberian, Celt, Roman and Moor in the conquistador, and the Guarani, Araucano and many more types of Indian on the distaff side, there came a strange breed—a cross between Don Quixote and Nick the Greek, between Sir Lancelot and Eddie Arcaro—a breed as mysterious as its name, el gaucho, which might mean "the orphan" and then again might not, because nobody knows.
El gaucho was bred to the saddle, the skies and the pampas, which is what he called space. He roamed at will, calling no man his master; always the knight-errant, a demon gambler, devoted shepherd and cattleman and the best of horsemen: a desperate battler, tale-spinning dandy, steadfast friend and fly-by-night lover. Curiously enough, his women seldom get into print, but he called them china and they crop up mostly in love songs, or with the family at fiestas for birthdays and christenings, and join in a few choruses, drink a little wine and go back to oblivion.
The reason for the respect that el gaucho has generally commanded can be seen stuck in his belt. The fac�n is worn behind his back, with the hilt tipped readily toward the right hand, in a scabbard of worked silver and holding a blade about 18 inches long. At one time it was a copy of the double-edged Roman short sword, little more than a heavy razor. Time and the steelsmiths worked to produce a double-edged blade—never sharpened for a distance of four fingers from the tang (in order to give more purchase in whittling posts and to cut wire) but expertly and lovingly honed from there to the tip. In a fight, el gaucho never used the fac�n just to chop or slash. There were strict rules, unwritten but never disobeyed.
The blade was designed for disemboweling his opponent. Anything else was beneath his dignity. A revolver he considered an effeminate weapon. El gaucho has never been seen carrying one. In his view, that little piece of lead that killed or maimed at a distance might suit a weakling in ambush. El gaucho had to face a man, as a man, at blade's length. Either he could defend himself or not. He had little use for property, but his enjoyment of few possessions turned on his ability with the fac�n.
Top to toe, most of what he wore was in protection against the fac�n, and he dressed only in what his women could weave or what his knife and wits could make for him.
El gaucho's hat came directly from the conquistador's wide-brimmed felt. He left the high crown alone because it kept off the sun, but sliced the brim, turning it down in back to guard his neck and up in front, since in any case that was where el pampero, blowing 60 mph for weeks on end, would blast it and leave it in permanent crease.
Under the hat he wore a type of scarf bound around the head and neck to keep dust and flying grit out of his hair. A long shirt was tucked into wide trousers called bombachas, often sewn with embroidery by his women and, for high days, with lace, again a hand-down from his courtly Spanish ancestor. The chirip� was an oblong piece of cloth, often square, and worn like a diaper over the bombachas with an end brought up through the crotch, and held around the waist with a wide sash. On top of that, a thick leather cincture studded with coins and buckled with a massive ornament in silver held everything together.
Chirip�, sash and belt gave protection against the weather and supported him in all the hours of riding but, above all, those folds of heavy cloth, the leather and the rows of coins and studs were defense of sorts against disembowelment.
His boots were made from the hind legs of a fresh-killed calf. A blade slit the hide all around, about three spans up and two down from the hock, and the "tubes" were flayed off while the carcass was still warm. The insides were scraped clean, and El Gaucho put his foot in the tube's widest part and pulled it up to his knee, leaving his foot in the narrow part, with the heel comfortably fitting the "turn," and binding it around the ankle. He tied the open end at the toes and carried the thong to the boot top below the knee in a fancy knot. The warmth of his feet dried the hide, pressure forced it to shape and the rawhide ties turned the toes up to a point. A rub with fat and they wore for years, pliable as gloves.
Over all he wore the poncho, a large square with a slit in the middle he could put his head through, it was woven of llama, guanaco or sheep's wool, often in colors and patterns that told the knowing where he came from. The poncho was his pride, raincoat, blanket, gift of love and an outward sign of affluence. Without it, he might have had a run of misery, or gamed among men without a heart. El gaucho always returned a beaten gamester just enough clothing to preserve the dignity of Everyman and enough money to buy the week's staples—because a hungry man's curses bring bad luck. And he had a poncho to warm his heart and his hopes and a horse to take him toward better times.