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Endless Dancing In the Streets

By GEORGE VECSEY (NYT) 1073 words
Published: July 4, 1982

BARCELONA, Spain - IN Barcelona, they are dancing in the streets. Almost every day or night in some corner of this Catalan city, the people materialize to perform the Sardana, a stately circular folk dance. Catalonia needs no World Cup to surge with life.

Yet this week Barcelona has more vitality than usual because the Brazilian fans are also here, carrying the pulse of the soccer-loving world in their dancing feet.

In Portuguese the fans are called ''La Torcida,'' whose literal translation might be ''The Thing That Twists,'' but in Brazil everybody knows the word stands for the soccer fans.

They shimmy and shake day and night down the Ramblas, the main concourse for lovers and walkers and drinkers and gawkers in Barcelona. They shake tambourines and they spank a dozen types of drums.

Tall and dignified black men wear top hats and gaucho hats and soft soccer caps, and they create the rhythm of the samba; tall and beautiful black women dance in front of them. Around them surges a crowd of Brazilians dressed in yellow and green T-shirts, their arms in the air, celebrating a carnival in July, celebrating soccer, celebrating life.

These are the Brazilians, the heart and soul of the northern half of the World Cup. In Madrid to the south, according to the newspapers, it is not as gentle because of drinking and fighting by some English fans. At latest count, 16 English nationals have been detained by the police, five of them expelled. In Barcelona there seems to be nothing like this. The Brazilians dance, and they do not fight.

Barcelona deserves the Brazilians and vice versa: exuberant fans in a city made for living. Perhaps a billion people around the world are watching the games on television this week, but the soul of the event is here.

Nobody seems sure how many Brazilians are here; estimates range from 3,000 to 15,000. The wealthy ones stay in five-star hotels and take charter buses to the games and make tours of Antonio Gaudi's weird, shimmering unfinished church, La Sagrada Familia. The majority of fans dance in the Ramblas at all hours of the day and night. When do they sleep? Nobody knows that, either.

The Ramblas is one of the most beautiful boulevards in the world, a broad avenue given over to thick trees and cafes and news kiosks and vendors who sell tough little chufa nuts and parakeets and trinkets. The walkway is paved with curved tiles, giving an undulating feeling as if one were walking on water. When La Torcida is surging along the Ramblas, one feels swept in a high tide at full moon.

At the time of Christ, the Ramblas was a river bed, a sandy bottom where water trickled from the Collcerola hills. After Wilfred the Shaggy fought off the Moorish invaders in the Ninth Century, the Ramblas became a wall of the Gothic Quarter. Now it is the heart of the city and of a people who insist they are not Spanish but Catalonian.

The Ramblas stretches a kilometer or so from the harbor, with its statue of Columbus, to the Plaza de Cataluna. Several times during the week, Catalonians dance the Sardana in the middle of the Plaza de Cataluna.

The city stretches out in three directions from the Ramblas. It is the wealthiest and healthiest city in Spain, and constantly seeks more independence from Madrid. At the opening game of the World Cup, several young people were detained by police for displaying a banner urging liberty for Catalonia.

Proud of having half the second round of the World Cup scheduled here, Barcelona has done its best to help the thousands of journalists from all over the world. There is not a great tradition of sports publicity in Europe; where is Pete Rozelle of the National Football League when we really need him? Statistics are haphazard; lineups are passed out halfway through the game; clubhouses are not open to the press; cooperation of the clubs is basically nonexistent.

But the directors have at least provided stilted interviews with the coaches, translated by professionals into four or five languages. And for every journalist seeking credentials, facts, adequate electricity and telephones, or any kind of help, the bilingual ''azafatas'' -hostesses wearing the yellow and red colors of both Spain and Catalonia - will try to find help.

The games themselves go fast. The players warm up for 10 minutes and go to work after the national anthems - just 90 minutes of action with no stopping the clock. There are no cheerleaders, no armies of drum majorettes, no marching bands, no television timeouts, no huddles, none of the accessories that turn American football games into interminable bores. There is one hot-air balloon overhead, promoting that tire company and Fuji film, but there are few vendors in the stands because there are no dead spots in the action.

Soccer games belong to the players and the fans, particularly to La Torcida in its yellow T-shirts from across the ocean, searching for a fourth World Cup.

However, a region that gave either actual or creative birth to Gaudi, Picasso, Victoria de los Angeles, Miro Montserrat Caballe and Alicia de Larrocha did not need the World Cup to feel proud of itself.

A New Yorker who feels his hometown has become a combat zone feels jealous about the open-air cafes and spotless subways and the vitality in Barcelona. Even without La Torcida, Barcelona dances. For me, this most beautiful moment of the World Cup will not be a goal-scoring dash by Brazil or a diving save by Dino Zoff of Italy but rather an evening outside the cathedral.

It was last Wednesday about 7:30 P.M. and I was watching young boys kicking a ball against the grillwork of the cathedral. There are few grassy fields in the cities of Europe, so children play soccer where they can.

The plaza began to fill up with well-dressed men and women coming from work and homes. People strapped on soft shoes as a modest band began playing the solemn notes of the Sardana. Several elderly people formed a circle, held their hands above their heads, and performed the gentle steps of a dance many centuries old. A soldier joined in, then a few young girls, then a businessman in a suit.

The summer sun glanced off the face of the cathedral, designed by a mason from Rouen 600 years ago. First, there was one circle of dancers, then two, then four, then eight. A few blocks away, La Torcida was surging up and down the Ramblas; and in front of the cathedral the people of Catalonia were also dancing in the streets.

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