The Notting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival - Young girl parading on...Image via WikipediaNotting Hill Carnival 2009
Today Esther and I attended the Notting Hill Carnival. A Caribbean themed-festival in London’s famous Notting Hill region. It was a good deal more, how shall I put it? impromptu? than we had expected. Especially after the incredibly polished Carnaval de Nice that we witnessed in February. A cold wind along with grey English skies and dirty London streets made it almost a depressing sight to begin with, as we exited Westbourne tube station and wandered amongst home-made stalls billowing smoke from Jerk Chicken and others selling Jamaican flags. But eventually the late-summer sun rose and shone through the morning gloom.

Plus, we soon realised that this was a very different carnival from that we had been to in Nice. The heavy bass of amateur DJs on every corner and the scantilly clad women grinding next to strangers told us that this probably wasn’t the kind of carnival where annoying French petits Nicolas et copains were given free reign to squirt anyone and everyone with aerosol string while ignoring the elaborately created and colourful floats that passed them by. The floats were more or less rudimentary, in fact trucks with people on them would be a better description, but the outfits on the dancers were a lot more elaborate. However, to be fair, the web-site had advertised that the carnival, which was to be held over two days, was to be composed of Sunday’s “children’s carnival” and today’s “adult carnival”.

But amongst the Caribbean girls in colourful, imaginative and also quite revealing outfits; dancing with their bums out and occasionally a strange man walking, um quite close, behind them; there were occasionally to be spotted the odd Anglo-Saxon girl as well. Which brought the incredibly juvenile question to mind: “why is it that pasty and pink-hued English women, notwithstanding that they might otherwise be very attractive, so rarely seem able to pull-off any sort of ethnic costume?” Be it saris, African prints or as in this case skimpy-and-wingéd numbers of a Carnivale theme. Is it that, accustomed as the English are to the frumpy outpourings of Topshop, English women find themselves awkward and uncomfortable in such overtly sexy clothing. Hmmm, I hardly think so. Although maybe Topshop has some answering to do in regards to why the word “frumpy” occurs with such regularity in regards to British fashion. Perhaps then it’s that peculiarly English class-snobbishness which abhors curves as so aptly described in the 1930s by Stevie Smith's poem "This Englishwoman":

“This English woman is so refined, she has no bosom and no behind”?

Image via Akseli Koskela
Elaborately clad girls having a break from dancing
As funny as I find Stevie Smith’s little ditty, I don’t think that’s quite it either. Maybe it’s just about finding the correct colours and costumes that work with pale skin and having to make that extra effort when trying to fit in to another culture...?

Or maybe the question has more to do with the ease with which, gawping, camera in hand, a male at a street parade is able to cast judgement on the fat girls and the old girls and the frumpy and out-of-place girls who have made the effort to dress up in a costume and are obviously enjoying themselves [Touché].
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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