So, I decided to wait a couple days after the Notting Hill Carnival to write this post. I knew that some of my disdain for the two day London festival needed to dissipate before I scared you all away with how much anger I could have towards an event. I have calmed down following this weekend’s festivities, and am now ready to tell you what the Notting Hill Carnival means to me.
The Notting Hill Carnival is huge. The type of huge you can only believe with your own eyes. It spans the entire Notting Hill neighborhood, and every single resident is affected, for better or for worse. About one million people per day head to the West London neighborhood to watch it transform from its quaint and posh little self to a mosh pit of dancing drunks celebrating the Afro-Caribbean subculture living within the community.
The Afro-Caribbean celebration means for two days, the air is filled with the smoke of jerk chicken barbecues and copious amounts of marijuana, and the sounds of reggae music blasting from 10 foot speakers found on every street. Those streets are packed with scantily clad visitors either in Caribbean-inspired feathers, underwear, and parade garb, looking to celebrate their roots, and a million other nationalities that have come to watch the mayhem unfold or add to it.
The Carnival could be great if it actually had a message or a visible point. It’s so spread out, dirty, and packed, that you don’t get a sense of another culture. You don’t even know what you’re looking at. It’s just a mess. There are parades over the two days which are the best reminders of what you are there for. Who you are there to celebrate and understand. But after that, you’re drinking rum and watching people piss on the street and fall down.
The Preparation: The Notting Hill Carnival is a huge imposition on the residents of the community. Since every open front door and stoop either gets graffitied or urinated all over, every owner needs to spend time and money boarding up the front of their homes. Our group of townhouses were gated in and require a guard at each end of the fencing. On top of this, us residents need to prepare for a two day apocalypse. No restaurants will be open. No dry cleaners. No pet stores. No gyms. No tube stations. Nothing. The entire neighborhood shuts down. My husband and I spent Saturday preparing like we would for a Nor’easter storm back home. Most locals choose to leave, which is, of course, another added expense. We choose to stay because we have animals and do not feel comfortable leaving them alone, confused by the extreme crowds and the booming bass that can be heard around the clock.
The Carnival: The morning starts out fine. The streets are not too busy and although the constant thumping of the speakers and the smell of jerk in my home gets old real fast, it’s not what it will be in a few hours. I pray that is stays lighthearted and tame, but without fail, that is the calm before the storm.
Once lunchtime rolls around, the streets start to fill up. By 2:00, you will start to see people unravel. Inhibitions are lost and the animalistic side of humanity comes out in a very dark way. Men and women alike treat the neighborhood like a toilet. Baring it all, thongs, asses, squatting, falling and trying to urinate on any vertical surface they can lean on. This doesn’t matter if it is someone’s car or front door. They do not care. The same pee spot will become a lovers playground for X-rated grinding, fondling, and more falling. The scene has changed, as well as the vibe. Something doesn’t feel right in the air. People seem drunk and happy, but behind the sloppiness is an angry undertone. Maybe it’s oppression, maybe it’s all the thugs. I don’t know. There were multiple stabbings and a death this year. A man bumped into me, which I thought was an accident, but then his friend simultaneously tried to trip me. My husband shielded me, and these two men started following us. They did not know us. They were just looking for a fight. So many people at the Notting Hill Carnival are looking for a fight. Last year I watched a drunken man punch a female bartender in the face after she asked him to get off of her service counter. The scene is scary.
The cops do not make you feel any safer. There are about 9,000 police for two million people. They can’t be bothered to stop every drunken asshole urinating and smashing bottles. They are reserved for the murderers, rapists, and robbers. You know, all of your favorite Carnival people. It’s quite sad. So, why does the pretty little neighborhood have this festival every year? I don’t think they have a choice. There’s talk that the riot for not having it would be worse that the disturbing weekend already is. If you canceled the August Bank Holiday Carnival, they would all still come, with their nitrous and graffiti, paper bags of booze, and tiny outfits, but this time they would be angry and the houses would not be prepared with their plywood and cage protection. It’s a situation where residents can’t win.
The Aftermath: It’s now two days later and my street still reeks of urine. We haven’t had rain (for once) so the puddles of toxicity have dried as have the hints of graffiti all over the neighborhood. There is still broken glass between all of the cobblestone and the piles of litter will be lingering for at least another week. I drove by workers repairing store front tiles and repainting their entrances. No one gets reimbursed for this maintenance. It’s just all an assumed responsibility of the community. One I do not stand by or agree with.
As you can see, I’m not a fan. I’ve tried. I’ve lived it. I’ve gotten wasted on rum punch and danced and woken up hungover. But that’s all I have ever gotten from the Notting Hill Carnival. A hangover. No magical, amazing time that made me love my neighborhood or want to fly right to a Jamaican vacation. Nothing. Just a hangover.
Notting Hill Carnival