Ending and Beginning – Redding CT

Tuesday 12th March 2019 – Redding CT

When I was planning my trip, I imagined that I might need a bit of space between my final event and going home to decompress and process what I had done. So I thought ending up in very rural Redding CT, where Harry and Florence had a place and Harry lived on and off in his life would be a good choice.

Having been away from home for pretty much 9 weeks, visited 18 countries, met with over 400 wonderful strangers i.e. alumni, from 7 different I-Houses and connected with even more over the multiple digital channels, taken 26 flights travelling over 34,000 miles, I think this was a good piece of forward planning.

It has not sunk in that I did ‘it’ yet. I met my goal of meeting at least one alumni in each destination and overall surpassed my expectations many times.

So it was that on my birthday, after a short and very lovely coffee with the I-House NYC Development and Alumni team of Julie Pape and Emily Wakeling, that Chris my partner took a happy but tired and somewhat emotional me off to find a hire car and drove me out of town.

Stopping for a very delicious birthday lunch at L’Escale in Greenwich, we then headed north to Redding CT. It is a tiny town close to some very pretty reservoirs which were still largely frozen. We were staying above a Yoga centre in the woods, I am not quite sure how we would have reached it in fresh snow, but as the weather gods have been pretty much with me all the way, we had beautiful ornamental rather than hazardous snow. The only noises as we stood in the woods were the running of a small river, the gentle crackle and drip of melting snow and the slight russell of the tree branches in the breeze. Perfect for a pause.

Sandy Edmonds, Harry ‘s granddaughter, who had joined me in Beirut, grew up in Redding in the house that Florence’s parents bought. Built in 1783 it sits on the green by the First Church of Christ Congregational. With Sandy’s encouragement via WhatsApp from Vermont, we broke all British reserve and knocked on the door. The rather surprised Associate Minister who lives there, Jane Moran, very kindly showed us around. The house has been very lovingly restored keeping the wonderful polished wooden plank floor, hand cut beams, as well as the fireplace which is huge, as it was used for cooking over and still has the original bread oven to the right hand side of it.

Also on Sandy’s suggestion we headed off to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which is near Tarrytown NY, to find Harry and Florence’s graves. As well as being the subject of a Hollywood film about a headless horseman, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is the burial ground for many famous people. I have been told that J.D. Rockefeller paid for Florence to be buried there in 1933. It is close to his country home at Kykuit.

Finding a grave on the site is not an easy thing, but with the help of multiple maps from the office we negotiated the many small roads to the right spot. Harry and two of his wives, Florence and Marie are buried together, however only Harry has a stone, which has “That brotherhood may prevail” inscribed on it.

Harry Edmonds’ memorial stone

I had a short ‘chat’ with Harry, thanking him from everyone I have met and all those I have not, who have ever lived at the Houses for putting his idea into action and transforming lives. I looked around at the snowy graves and thought his was certainly a life well lived. He was 96 when he died and his legacy lives on. I wondered if I will do enough that my great grandchildren will come looking for my legacy.

Where Harry’s plot is at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

It seemed a good place to end my trip and begin what ever comes next. I am convinced that the International House idea is as relevant now as it ever has been and that the original Houses need to keep flourishing.

The light needs to keep being passed on, so this is not the end but a beginning too. I don’t know exactly what happens next but although I will have to get some gainful employment again, I will be continuing to tell Harry’s story and celebrating the residents who have passed through the Houses.

There is some finishing off of this trip to be done when I get home to England and reflections on travelling the world to share.

I know I will see many of those I have met again and who knows what ripples are yet to happen as a result of our meeting, that is the exciting part.

To my partner Chris, thank you for your love and support in my quest

Where we ate:

L’Escale in Greenwich http://lescalerestaurant.com

Main Street Sweets (Family Run Ice Cream shop) in Tarrytown – https://www.tarrytownicecream.com

I-House New York

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.

Outside I-House in Sakura Park

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.

A subset of those who gathered in front of Harry’s portrait

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.

Vineet Dhindsa Sidhu, Emily Wakeling, me and Julie Pape in the Soros Room

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.

Yelena Grinberg, Sherman and Vineet Dhindsa Sidhu, Anita Haravon, ??, ??, Joyce Fan, me, Chris Swinhoe-Standen
Vineet Dhindsa Sidhu, Anita Haravon, me, Chris and Sherman Dhindsa Sidhu

Where we ate: Russian Vodka Room 265 W 52nd St, NYC