Location/Culture Reports

Culture Report –New York to South Africa

Whenever I visit a new place, I try to find books and movies that have to do with the area’s culture. So as the Amazing Race travels around the world, I am going to try to write about the local culture of the area and talk about books and movies that are associated with that city and country. I will also mention any personal connection.

New York

New York in this leg means Manhattan. For the final leg, it’s Queens. I consider myself a New Yorker more than anything else. My parents were both born and raised in Brooklyn, I went to New York University for my Masters Degree, and I visit New York at least twice a year, especially for TARcons.

The Amazing Race begins in New York. The starting point of the race is the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. [If you want to people watch in NY, Bethesda Fountain is a great place to perch - miri] Bethesda Fountain is where the play Angels in America written by Tony Kushner has its final scene. If you have never seen Angels, HBO has filmed it and it will be shown in December.

Many great books have been written by New Yorkers and take place in New York; many of these have also been turned into great movies. One of my favorite books, for as long as I can remember, is From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg. This book, which won the 1967 Newbery Medal, tells of a sister and brother, Claudia and Jamie, who run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you ever wondered about living in a museum, this fun story is the book for you. Edith Wharton wrote about New York society during the turn of the century. Her books include House of Mirth and the Age of Innocence. Besides the wonderful writing, both books convey what New York was like at this time. Breakfast at Tiffanys was written by Truman Capote and is the story of Holly Golightly. As Seinfeld fans know, the novella is very different from the movie version. Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow takes place in 1906 and includes both fictional and real people (such as Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit and Henry Ford). It tells the story of life in New York from many perspectives, among them African Americans, immigrants, and rich businessmen.

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was a classic from the moment it was published in 1952. It chronicles the travels of its narrator -- a young, nameless black man -- who moves to New York after being expelled from his southern college. This is one of the best books ever written about race in America. Time & Again by Jack Finney combines many genres, including historical fiction, mystery, romance, and time travel. It is the story of a man who travels back to New York in the 1880s. The book vividly describes the New York of that era. [So, if a racer entered the time warp of “Time & Again,” could he/she claim you made it to the pitstop first…by a couple hundred years? – miri] Social Disease by Paul Rudnick (who I consider one of the funniest people of all time) is set in New York in the 1980s and is about the after hours club scene of that time.

Three of my favorite New York movies are The Producers, Moonstruck, and Men In Black (remember MIB for the final episode). The Producers is arguably the greatest movie ever made about Broadway. It is the story of Max Bialystock, who along with accountant Leo Bloom, come up with the scheme that in order to make money, they have to produce the worst show ever done – Springtime for Hitler. Unfortunately for them, the show turns out to be a hit. When my Dad was stationed in Vietnam, this movie was shown to his Unit. By the end of the movie, only three people were left watching – all of them from New York. Moonstruck is probably my family’s favorite movie. Trust me, we quote this movie all the time. While it is the story of a family in Brooklyn, many of the scenes take place in Manhattan – the characters that Cher and Nicholas Cage play go to see La Boheme at Lincoln Center, and the restaurant where the family has many memorable moments is actually located in Greenwich Village, near New York University.

Other great New York movies include On the Town (for the opening number alone – it was the first movie musical filmed on location. You know it, “New York, New York, A Hell of a Town, the Bronx is Up and the Battery’s Down”), Hester Street (the story of Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side), 42nd Street (another great movie about Broadway), West Side Story (the story of rival New York gangs, it was filmed in the area where Lincoln Center was later built), Crossing Delancey (a grandmother hires a matchmaker for her granddaughter, a New York intellectual -- the man she sets her up with runs a pickle store on the Lower East Side), The Way We Were (for one of the greatest movie endings ever, Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand running into each other again in front of the Plaza Hotel. The second season finale of Sex and the City did homage to that scene).

South Africa

Antony Sher, who is one of my favorite actors, was born in South Africa. In 1968, he moved to Britain, where he lives today. He has written both fiction and autobiography about life in South Africa. His novels include Middlepost, Indoor Boy, Cheap Lives, and The Feast. His autobiographical books include Year of the King, Beside Myself, and Woza Shakespeare. The latter was written with his partner, Gregory Doran, and is about a production of Titus Andronicus that was performed in South Africa.

South Africa has a long history of great literature. Alan Paton has written about apartheid in many novels including Cry the Beloved Country. (Side note: Oprah recently announced that Cry the Beloved Country would be the next selection for her book group. There is now a lot of information about Alan Paton and Cry on her website). J.M. Coetzee has twice won the Booker Award (the UK’s top literary prize) for The Life and Times of Micheal K and Disgrace. He has also written a two-volume autobiography – Boyhood and Youth. His book, Age of Iron, was voted by writers in a Mail and Guardian poll as the finest South African novel of the past ten years. In October 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Nadine Gorimer, the first South African to win the Nobel Prize, has written many novels including The Lying Days, July’s People, and The Pickup. Athol Fugard has also written about apartheid in his plays including Master Harold…and the Boys.

Other South African writers and their writings include Mtutuzeli Matshoba, Call Me Not a Man; Njabulo S. Ndebele, Fools and Other Stories; Mark Mathabane's autobiography Kaffir Boy and Ellen Kuzwayo’s autobiography, Call Me Woman. [Kaffir is a derogatory Afrikaans – the language of the whites in South Africa – word for a black person. It’s also an Islamic word for “infidel.” – miri]

Many books have been written about Nelson Mandela, including his autobiography, Long Road To Freedom, and Anthony Sampson’s Mandela, The Authorized Biography. [Mandela was imprisoned for nearly 30 for his anti-apartheid activities. TAR pays a visit to his prison cell in season two. – miri]