Friday, 13 November 2015

The Amazing Race 27, Episode 8

The Hague (Netherlands) - Krakow (Poland)

The first time The Amazing Race visited Poland, the reality-TV travel show visited the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This season, the racers were sent to the Krakow municipal historical museum at Oscar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, where more than a thousand and Jews were saved from the death camps by Schindler’s employing them in his factory and bribing SS officials.

The Nazi Holocaust is an important (if increasingly distant) piece of Poland’s past, and there are good reasons for tourists to visits sites where that past is memorialized and to take the opportunity to engage with its meanings for the present and the future of our own countries.

The Amazing Race has also visited sites of memory of other Holocausts and horrors on other continents: slave pens at Gorée Island off Dakar, Senegal in West Africa and at Stone Town, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania in East Africa; the Peace Memorial at the site of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, Japan; and the cell on Robben Island off Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela was confined for 18 of the 27 years during which he was imprisoned before he was released and elected president of South Africa.

The producers of The Amazing Race as a mass-market TV show deserve credit for visiting these places, raising these issues — and showing that it’s possible to do so, when you have the chance, without necessarily having that be the primary focus of your travels. ( I haven’t yet been to Krakow, but I’ve heard it’s a pleasant and interesting place to visit.)

What I struggle to understand, as much or more with respect to real-world travellers as with respect to The Amazing Race, is how and why it comes to be considered normal and even expected that visitors to some places will include sites of memory of events like this in their tour itineraries, while visits to such sites in other places are unusual.

The Amazing Race — by way of example and not to criticize — overlooked significant sites of memory of state terrorism against African-Americans in places it passed through in the USA, and has yet to visit any of the extensive and increasingly conspicuous network of sites of memory of state terrorism in Argentina and the other countries of the Southern Cone.

The former prison on Alcatraz Island is a “must-see” for visitors to San Francisco. Given that the USA has the world’s largest prison population, it makes perfect sense for foreign visitors to want to understand US attitudes toward, and practices of, incarceration. For better or (mostly) worse, these are distinctive features of the USA and of our culture. But most people who live here, not to mention most foreigners, have never heard of the prison in Florence, Colorado, that has replaced Alcatraz as the most restrictive in the Federal prison system. Why? And why does no other US prison or museum of the history of imprisonment attract anything like the interest or visitorship of Alcatraz?

It’s tempting to attribute this solely to the impact on popular awareness of Hollywood movies like Schindler’s List and Escape from Alcatraz. There’s some truth to that, but I think there is more going on than just pop-culture fads. It’s also tempting to assume that tourists want a vacation from unpleasant thoughts. But that can’t account for the interest in Alcatraz — or, for that matter, for the perennial popularity as tourist destinations of some battlefields and sites of military history.

Travel isn’t like watching a movie. It’s easier to contemplate horrors or holocausts when we can distance ourselves from them as being part of another time, another place, or another culture. But the more we immerse ourselves in the place we are visiting, the more we try to see the world through our hosts’ eyes, the harder it is to sustain that emotional separation.

Do you visit sites of unpleasant memory when you travel? Which ones? Where and where not? Why?

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 13 November 2015, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

It is not just memorials to atrocities where a few examples have a magnetic effect, and others are overlooked. Da Vinci's Mona Lisa attracts immense crowds, each person insisting on their own photograph of the painting. I was recently in Burgos cathedral, where there is a da Vinci painting of Mary Magdalen, almost in touching distance. There were few people in the cathedral, and I was the only one paying it much attention.

I have never figured out why museums of Asian art get so little respect. When Washington's mall is mobbed, and the museums opposite the castle are crammed, you can wander in blissful silence through the Sackler and Freer. If the Louvre is too crowded, just head for the Guimet.

After my most recent trip to Europe, where the crowds in any city reachable from a cruise ship were wall to wall, I will be choosing my destinations with considerably more care in future.

Posted by: Kathy, 16 November 2015, 07:15 ( 7:15 AM)

Interesting, Edward, that you focused on one of our own must-sees wherever we travel: Holocaust sites. As children of survivors, and as members of both the U.S. and Illinois Holocaust Museums, we feel it's vital to view how other cities/countries present this information, and of course to show our support for those who preserve the memory. (We just returned from a trip to Montreal where we toured Canada's lone but excellent museum.) Although our visits invariably stir up emotions, not always pleasant, we nonetheless always feel good about making the effort.

Posted by: Brent Brotine, 20 November 2015, 08:27 ( 8:27 AM)


I have often pondered the oft mentioned fact that we have more prisoners per capita than most. It came to me that in a lot of countries, they have little interest in reforming or warehousing the miscreants and just outright kill them or "disappear" them. Is it a long shot to think that a large prison population is a sign of political tolerance? Perhaps worth pondering and a further discussion?

As a Libertarian, I favor legalization of most everything that is not intrusive or trespassing on your neighbor. This would virtually eliminate our prison population and allow for freedom of choice which is rapidly being eroded......



Posted by: john w, 20 November 2015, 16:41 ( 4:41 PM)

S-21 in Phnom Penh is a remarkable memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge. Three things that made our visit particularly powerful were: we had read Survival in the Killing Fields before visiting, our guide had actually experienced the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge as a teenager, and the museum had left the blood stains of the victims on the walls and the floors. The darkest side of humanity is on full display here.

Posted by: Annie Mohler, 21 November 2015, 15:59 ( 3:59 PM)
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