Friday January 4th 2019
My tour got ‘officially’ underway as I met with alumni, staff and residents at International House New York. We met in the Home Room which has portraits of both Harry Edmonds and his first wife Florence Edmonds, my great grandfather and grandmother so they were watching over me as I shared my thoughts with the group.
One of the things that I have noticed make I-House gatherings really interesting is not only the mix of nationality, women and men but also ages. So our oldest attendee was 81 and our youngest were teenage children of a Colombian resident. Whilst alumni do have a close affiliation to those who lived at the House with them in their ‘year/s’ they are just as interested in meeting those who were there before or after them.
After my talk, there was a spontaneous request to find out more about who was in the room and what their reflections were on their I-House experience and what people were doing today. That curiosity about others and wanting to reflect and learn also seems a key trait of those who really embrace their time at I-House. One gentleman from Haiti was reflecting on the meaning of ‘home’ and the possibility of being a citizen of the world rather than just one place and certainly most of the shared experiences spanned more than one country or even career.
Harry talked about how it was the output of activities that I-House residents take part in rather than the activities themselves that produced the understanding, tolerance and international friendship, but there is no doubt that the shared experience of ball room dancing, language exchanges, Ice Cream socials or nights in the Pub provide the glue.
Being at the start of my trip, I really had no idea what reaction I would get to my personal pilgrimage. So far it has been warmth, gratitude, appreciation and curiosity, quite overwhelmingly so.
Story snippets… from this event
I can not possibly capture all the stories that have or will be shared with me but at each event I will try and capture some stories that were shared and either amused or resonated with the group.
NYC Blackout from Gary Smoke, alumni – He was returning from a trip out of town by bus and NYC was hit by a blackout. At the time the Port Authority was a pretty grim place and when he arrived there was no way for him to get back to his home in Long Island as the trains were not running. Not fancying sleeping at Port Authority he decided to head to I-House. He described how he arrived, the door was opened, he was given a candle and warmly invited in. I think there was also quite a party atmosphere, which he enjoyed before returning home once the blackout ended.
Envelope Entry from Gary Smoke, alumni – When Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York died in 1979, his funeral was going to be held at the church at Riverside Drive. Gary saw that the funeral was going to be attended by 4 US Presidents and as the church is only a stones throw from the NYC House he wanted to attend. He went to the I-House Director and asked him how he could get in. The Director said that it was, obviously invite only, and showed Gary his invitation. The invitation came in a fancy envelope and Gary was able to persuade the Director to give him the envelope. On the day of the funeral, he walked assertively through the door to the church with the invited dignitaries and waved the envelope confidently at the security guards and was admitted!
A Russian Evening: With the help of Yelena Grinberg, we gathered a good handful of NYC alumni for an evening of Russian food and drink.
Where we ate: Russian Vodka Room 265 W 52nd St, NYC