A jolly old travel log

London and Atlanta have a lot in common. They've got a West End. We've got a West End. They've got an Underground. We've got an Underground. They've got Elton John. We've got Elton John.

So it makes perfect sense for me to write a column about my London vacation, don't you think? Well, even if you don't, the editors do. [Editors note: It doesn't make sense to us. We're just tired of going out.] I guess I'm an international correspondent now. Note to self: Get new business cards.

Dogwood It Ain't: Just as our summer ends symbolically with the three-day Labor Day weekend, the English summer symbolically ends with a three-day Bank Holiday weekend. Coinciding with the end of summer Bank Holiday is the annual Notting Hill Carnival. It's touted as the second-largest street festival in the world. I counted about 850,000 people on the day I went, although I concede that I may have missed a few while I sat down to eat.

Notting Hill is a stylin' West London neighborhood that, thanks to the movie of the same name, is now the most well-known English hill since Benny. The carnival started in 1965, when Notting Hill was a Caribbean immigrant neighborhood. Though the neighborhood has swankified considerably, the carnival still has a strong Caribbean flavor thanks to all the jerk chicken, ganja, Red Stripe and Jamaican patties (I pity the fool who didn't try the veggie patties from Mr. T Caribbean Cuisine's tent).

It was by far the most beered-up, spliffed-up street festival I've ever been to. Even the Mr. Whippy ice cream vendor was drinking beer. And despite the strong police presence, pot was smoked and sold openly. The funniest scene I saw all day was when, right in front two police officers, a guy tried to pay a vendor with marijuana.

Before he could complete the transaction, police hauled off the vendor because he didn't have a permit.

Just say no ... to unlicensed vendors!

The festival's highlights are its parade, complete with floats and costumes, and the enormous competing sound systems. Rival sound system operators compete to draw the biggest crowd to their stage. The sound system I was able to get closest to, probably because their music was the worst, was called the Fun Bunch Revival. While most sound systems were blasting great old reggae, rock steady or Latin records, these guys were playing stuff like Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock and Kid 'N' Play. Nice.

I am 29 going on 30: Next time you're in London and you find yourself in one of those "I wanna go out tonight dressed up as either a nun or a Nazi" moods, I've got the place for you. Head over to the Prince Charles Cinema in the West End. There you'll find the Sing-Along-A Sound Of Music, the classic musical film subtitled so the audience can sing along. Prior to the film, there's a costume contest, hosted, somehow not surprisingly, by a Dame Edna meets Dusty Springfield-looking drag queen. Interestingly, the drag queen host(ess) is the person in the theater who looks least like a character from the movie.

The crowd was overwhelmingly female with a sprinkling of gay men, and of course, little ol' musical-loving me. The audience is less outrageously dressy and showy than those typically at sing along Rocky Horror Picture Shows, nevertheless, TSOM's superior songs make it (in my opinion) much more fun. In fact, the first half of the movie was the most joyous time I've ever had in a theater. That's not to say that the second half wasn't great too, it's just that I don't remember much of the second half. Did I mention that the Prince Charles Cinema serves alcohol?

Brimful of Asha: Bollywood is the funny generic name used for the Indian film industry. A typical Bollywood film is a vividly costumed, three-to-four hour epic involving romance, enormous ensemble dance numbers, intergenerational conflict, and, most importantly songs. Through early October, the Victoria & Albert Museum is showing a large collection of Bollywood film posters. The posters are brilliant works of art themselves, able to evoke all the passion and melodrama of the films in a single image. Just as the films are all small variations on the same basic themes, so too are the posters: lots of dressed-up people looking around longingly. As beautiful as they were, I did get a "seen one, seem 'em all" kind of feeling from the posters. Incidentally, if you get that feeling from the actual movies, it might be because, for decades, the lead female vocals in virtually all big Bollywood films were performed by either Asha Bhosle or her sister, Lata Mangeshka.

What's your function?: All summer, the British Science Museum has hosted an exhibition called Grossology. Using interactive gizmos, larger-than-life models and a talking water faucet, Grossology attempts to explain bodily functions to children with humor including barf, boogers, farts, pee, poop, etc. My favorite part was a fantastic lever-operated robo-human that you could make vomit. Popular with the kids was the push-button fart machine. It was too crowded, so I had to settle for a fart whistle from the gift shop. By far, the most popular bit with the youngsters was the enormous digestive system that children could crawl through. You enter through the mouth and exit through the anus, right onto a turd-shaped mat. A nice touch, I thought.




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