French, Brazilian Fans Make a Passion Statement
By Doug Struck and Michael T. Shepard
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 13, 1998; Page A15
"Vive la France!" he bellowed, straddling the center of Pennsylvania Avenue and waving his country's flag. Tourists at a hamburger restaurant paused in mid-munch and stared befuddled at the scene.
The 3-0 French victory over Brazil in the World Cup yesterday saw eruptions in staid Sunday Washington of the soccer mania that grips huge swaths of the rest of the world.
Police were called when a crowd gathered after the victory outside the French Embassy on Reservoir Road and outside a restaurant near Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Street NW. There were no reports of arrests.
The embassy had held a party to watch the match. But it was by invitation only, and others elected to gather in places such as Les Halles de Paris, a French restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the bodies were pressed tight and the French chants came in unison with the drum beat on the bottoms of garbage pails.
"Everyone has to wear a suit at the embassy party," sniffed Roger Avebe, 22, a fan here from Paris to study investment banking. "Soccer shouldn't be about champagne and cigars. It's about guys like me who wear their team jersey to a bar."
At the restaurants and bistros in Georgetown, and Brazilian bars in Northwest Washington where Brazilian fans drowned their sorrows, the unblushing passion for the championship match mocked America's vague consciousness of the sport.
The foreign chants and howls that emerged from crowds around television sets made tepid, by comparison, the American preoccupation with tortoisean baseball standings and league standings that move by statistical fractions.
"I told you! I told you we would win," Zein, a 29-year-old Parisian, shouted, before racing out of Les Halles and onto Pennsylvania Avenue, followed by a conga line of fans.
Jamal Laoudi, a waiter at the restaurant, hopped on a table and began waving the American and French flags. Somebody sprayed the crowds with champagne-expensive Roederer, insisted Amanda Schwartz, a patron who said she was having so much fun she started helping behind the bar.
"Yes, I would rather be in Paris," Avebe said. "I would love to be with my friends, my fiancee, for one of the great moments of a half-century. But this is almost as good."
Michel Verdon, co-owner of Les Halles, was not convinced business would be great the crowds were so thick the waiters could not move. But "there is more to life than business, no?" He said he was pleased to help dispel stereotypes of "the snooty French. As you can see today, this is French, friendly and fun."
Indeed, the rules were European: smoke wafted through the restaurant, wine poured freely from bottles and patrons smooched at intermissions. The televisions were perched on Evian water cartons.
At the same time, the hundreds of Brazilian fans who gathered at Amazonia Grill, off Wisconsin Avenue NW at 41st Street, yesterday made the place feel for a few hours like a bar in Rio de Janeiro. They came wearing the canary yellow national team jerseys or anything else with Brasil stamped upon it.
For Brazilians, soccer is an unofficial religion and yesterday's match meant everything. "It's like the mother of all Super Bowls," said Paulo Baesse, 32, who was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but lives in Rockville.
Anticipating a crowd, Amazonia Grill owner Eric Lemieux had ordered 100 cases of beer and three cases of cachaca, the fiery Brazilian sugar-cane liquor. He also had hired a band from New York to play, win or lose, after the match.
As game time approached, the Brazilian fans' energy reached a nervous crescendo. Several fans brought drums and tambourines, and the restaurant rolled with a chest-pounding samba beat, accompanied by boisterous chants of "ole, ole ole ole, Brasil, Brasil."
With agony etched onto their faces, Brazilian supporters watched as time ran out on their chances for a fifth world title. "This game is killing me," exclaimed waiter Marcelo de Souza Paulo late in the second half.
But most seemed to roll with the punch of the loss. About 15 minutes after the match, the music picked up again. "Hey, we have four world titles," said Laila Campos, 21, who draped the Brazilian flag over her shoulders like a cape. "Why not let them have one?"
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company