“If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success” J.D. Rockefeller
This time last year, I had left my job and I was finalising plans to set out on my 18 country 25 stop re-creation of my great grandfather, Harry Edmonds’ 1966 world trip. Today 9 months since I finished the trip, on the surface I am back in the routine of commuting into London, doing an interesting new job and it sometimes feels slightly unreal that I did the trip at all.
In my heart though it feels very real. Our choices change our lives and I am fascinated by what happens when we commit to action. Luckily for me the welcome, generosity and international friendship I encountered as a stranger meeting strangers around the world meant I returned from my experience with hope and new insight.
As graduate students around the world choose to go and study they will be changed by what results from that choice. For those who then also choose to live at an I-House, that particular choice, I believe is even more significant. I experienced again and again how the mission Harry dreamt of and convinced Mr J.D. Rockefeller of is lived by those who have lived at an International House. Tolerance, understanding and international friendship were certainly embodied by those I met.
This autumn Paul Volcker who served as Chair of the Board of Trustees for I-House NYC from 1998-2012 along with being Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, died. His service to and belief in the I-House mission is a reminder of how keeping institutions such as an I-House, whether in NYC or Sydney, alive is dependent on a whole team of committed individuals.
I would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard to keep my great grandfather’s dream alive over the last nearly 100 years and leave you as you go into 2020 with this thought from J.D Rockefeller.
“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”
Wishing that your 2020 is full of international friendship, new adventure and is healthy and joyful for you and all your families. Keep ‘passing the light on’!
As I have been going back through some of my emails about my trip I have found these lovely snippets which I wanted to share too.
I-House Chicago – Sanjib Basu
“Our correspondence has brought back memories of my life in International House. The Director of the House was Prof. Maynard Krueger, who besides being well-known in his field of labour economics, had been the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party in the 1940 U.S. Presidential election. I remember my first view ever of snowflakes from the spacious lounge and through the tall Gothic-style windows, promptly going outside with an Indian friend, and catching the flakes in our hands. I learnt ‘Pool’ from an American friend at the table in the basement, and ‘Hearts’, a card game, in the lounge. I have long forgotten how to play them though! In a programme arranged by the House, i spent the first Thanksgiving in the home of an elderly American couple in Freeport, a very small town in north-western Illinois, the Hardingers. Just to show how small the world can be, it turned out (a) that my host Mr. Phil Hardinger had been posted in Kolkata as an Air Force pilot during World War Two, and (b) that his daughter, whom i met at the Thanksgiving dinner, had been a room-mate in Texas of the sister of one of my childhood friends from Kolkata. The coincidence seemed quite miraculous.” – Sanjib Basu – Alum Chicago I-House
Orest Koropecky – lived at I-House NYC from 1964-66
These are photos shared with me by Orest. If anyone knows Marilyn Manera in the picture below please do let me know so I can re-connect her with her old friend.
International Student House or ISH in London, one of the two members of International Houses World Wide in London, has always had a royal patronage. The Queen Mother was a devoted supporter whilst she was alive and when she died the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne took over.
To celebrate the 54th birthday of ISH, the wonderful ISH team threw a very British garden party in the gardens adjacent to their beautiful Nash Crescent building right in the heart of London and Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal was the guest of honour. Luckily for us the promised British weather held off so we could enjoy the delicious food and company.
ISH was founded thanks to the dynamic persistence of Mary Trevelyan, who like my great grandfather Harry Edmonds, encountered lonely international students and chose to do something about their situation. For more background this blog post from the ISH website written by Jilly Borowiecka, who has devoted much of her career to the House, is well worth a read. https://ish.org.uk/the-legacy-of-ish/
Mary shared Harry’s goals of developing tolerance, understanding and international friendship. At the party I was lucky enough to come across The Rev. Tim Brooke, who had worked at ISH in the 1960s, in fact he may well have been there when Harry visited on his trip. Tim worked closely with Mary and so I asked him about her. He described her as being full of energy and enthusiasm, with a love of people rather than the administration and money side of running the House. Luckily for Tim his job was on the people side so he got to see the best of Mary. He shared with me that she always told her team that just talking to residents or alumni was never enough as they must introduce the person they were talking to to at least one other person, only by doing this would they get the ‘snow ball’ effect and ‘the idea’ would spread. I loved this as I thought it was such a simple message but could create such impact.
I spent most of my afternoon talking to current residents. ISH has a mix of undergraduate and graduate students and as you would expect I travelled the world in my conversations from Peru and Colombia, through Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria, to Afghanistan and Iran, onto India and Pakistan and into China and Tibet.
The ISH team are doing an amazing job of growing their scholarship program. This year they have 103 scholars from 44 countries and have plans to go to 120+ next year. Working with partner institutions across London ISH the scholars, who would not normally be able to study in the UK, both their tuition and accommodation at ISH funded. https://ish.org.uk/scholarship/
Alongside this great scholarship programme and the brilliant location of ISH, the thing that stands out for me is the wonderful team that bring the whole experience of ISH to life for their residents. Yesterday I saw them in action, how they love to celebrate and also how they value every member of the team. Princess Anne seemed also to pick up on this as she took the time to acknowledge and chat with those staff members featured in a video about ISH’s work. The team definitely care about the work they do welcoming young people from across the world and making their time in London life changing.
A young academic from Syria gave the speech, he had been helped to come to the UK by CARA (Council for At-Risk Academics) https://www.cara.ngo and was living at ISH. His speech was a touching description of how being at ISH had transformed his life and of gratitude for the love and care of so many and for the new friends he had made from around the world. In his speech he shared this lovely Pericles quote: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” Harry and Mary have both left so much woven into the lives of so many….
This week started well with an email binging in with the fantastic news that the University of Sydney leadership have postponed the move of I-House Sydney residents out of their building at the end of 2019 so the current House could be pulled down (with no concrete plans to re-build it).
Whilst the plans for what happens next are not yet clear, at least there is now time for Jessica Caroll, the current I-House Director, and her team to work with the University to shape a clear plan.
Jessica and her very passionate and devoted President of the I-House Sydney Alumni association, Ros Madden, have been galvanising support from alumni and current residents since the announcement last year, to bombard the Vice Chancellor with reasons to re-think. Their hard work and all the very well written and moving letters from alumni seem to have worked, which is wonderful.
I-House Sydney is one of 5 international Houses in Australia (Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Wollongong and Darwin). It was opened in June 1967 after a massive fund raising effort by the Rotary clubs across Sydney. The first director was Graeme Graaff. I know that he met with Harry Edmonds on a number of occasions including this one in 1977 at the 50th anniversary of I-House NYC.
On my trip I met with wonderful I-House Sydney alumni in Thailand, Hong-Kong, Manila and Malmo. Whilst the House is smaller than its US counterparts, holding about 200 residents a year, it still has the same impact with its fully catered dining hall helping residents quickly make new international friendships.
My partner Chris, keeps asking when we are going to Australia to see the Houses there, so now we have this good news, hopefully I will get to Sydney and be able to see the House as it is now and then be able to come back in the future and see its next exciting incarnation.
Thank you again to all those who have campaigned to keep this important part of University Sydney and International Houses World Wide open for business.
Signs of spring were all around my walking route this morning; magnolias, fruit blossom, daffodils and catkins. I was out to see if the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other would help me organise my many many thoughts as I reflect on my trip. Finding myself static with no plane to catch and a self imposed need to shape a plan for what next, is somewhat different to my last three months. The fresh air of the grey English morning did allow the space to organise several themes that echoed through my experience…
Harry’s I-House idea was born out of hope. Hope that by having future leaders live together and interact day to day they would bit by bit shed their prejudices and limiting beliefs about ‘the other’. The stories I heard as I travelled and what I saw at each of the I-Houses I visited, showed me that Harry’s hope was well placed and for the majority what he hoped for does happen. In fact I believe that what actually happens is beyond what Harry had hoped for.
My hope as I set off on my trip was that I would be able to, in some small way, pass the light on of tolerance, understanding and international friendship and I feel that was achieved. Out of that hope, I think a new a bigger hope has emerged which is a hope that the International House idea can be spread further and more Houses can offer future leaders from around the world the opportunity to expand their view beyond what they have known.
One of the things I most admire about Harry is that he was a man of action. In my work I coach business leaders who are often wrestling with challenging or complex situations, one thing we often discuss is about action and choice. Choosing to do something or even actively not to do something, will produce a result, sometimes good, sometimes not what we expected, but not choosing or passively not doing anything or even just talking about doing something but then not actually doing it, will not usually result in anything to move you forward. I could have waited to do my trip and perhaps it would have achieved more, but more likely it might never have happened. Creating momentum by starting or trying something I think is very critical to many I-House stories not just mine or Harry’s.
I did not get to meet Sofia Corradi, who with her sister Gemma lived at I-House NYC, but Gemma attended my Rome event and spoke passionately about Sofia’s work. Sofia is known as ‘Mamma Erasmus’ as she was a driving force behind the Erasmus European student exchange program which she cites was as a direct result of her time at the NYC House. Not an easy thing to do but Sofia again was a woman of action and bit by bit pieced together the network needed to enable the exchanges.
Also in Rome, Claudia Pelicano shared with Gemma and I one of her favourite Gothe quotes “At the moment of commitment, the Universe conspires to assist you.” Gothe sums up well my experience of having stepped forward and taken on this personal pilgrimage.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Dialogue & Curiosity
I-House folk, ask questions, lots of questions and they listen, they want to explore your perspective. They are comfortable not agreeing with it and expressing why that is or what their perspective is. Their questions can be searching right from the start, they make you think, they show you other ways to see things. They know that we can’t always like everyone but with some give and take that we can find ways to live alongside them and are willing find a way through the bumps to get there. They are open to re-exploring and also admitting they have changed their mind.
I don’t believe that everyone arrives at an I-House is pre-disposed to this by being part of a self selecting group. On my travels many I met had arrived at the House randomly, or with less research or understanding of what they were about to experience than you might imagine. However once there eating together and being surrounded by such diversity, their curiosity came to the fore. Many described how being at the house opened up possibilities beyond what they had ever imagined. I love this.
Morgan Randall an I-House Berkeley alum came to my Berlin event, he recently made this 2 minute video for the Berkeley Big Give, which I think summarises the I-House experience brilliantly https://youtu.be/51nJGhurr_A
A continuing journey – As I have talked about Harry devoted the whole of his long life to the I-House idea and whilst I have come somewhat late to my journey, having just been 50, I feel I am at the beginning so there will be more….
Passing the light on – inspired by the Candlelight Ceremony that is held each year at the 3 original Rockefeller Houses, I wanted to pass the light on of understanding, tolerance and international friendship. So I bought one big candle which travelled the whole world with me. Then in each destination I was given a new candle to take to the next stop and I left the candle from the previous stop and so on in a relay.
Candle Donors – New York starting candle – Susan Storms, I-House Berkeley – Angela Raunch, Honolulu – Francis Wong, Tokyo – Mami Urano, Taipei – Grace Cheng-Huei, Manila – Leah Jordano, Hong Kong – Nelson Fung, Bangkok – Book Mongkol Jarujanya, Delhi – Aditi Mody, Mumbai – Nidhi Shah, Beirut – Dirk Kunze, Istanbul – Nilgun Okay, Athens – Alex Varelas, Rome – Claudia Pelicano, Paris – Isabelle Sionniere, Berlin – Katrin Schomaker, Stockholm – Anders Paulsson, Oslo – Anders Garbom Backe, Helsinki – Anna-Maij Lindholm, Copenhagen – Jack Pederson, London – Patricia Hamzahee, Chicago – Denise Jorgens, New York finishing candle – Anita Haravon
We hope to reunite all or some of the candles at the 100 year celebration for I-House NYC in 2024.
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.
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.
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.
After Harry stopped being the Director at NYC I-House in 1935 he no longer lived on Manhattan. He spent time living in Paris, touring the world, living in Redding CT and also Lyons in upstate New York.
When he returned to NYC either to visit I-House for an event or on other business, he writes in his memoirs about how he would also head downtown and visit two spots. The first was St Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue and the other was J.D. Rockefeller Creed in the Rockefeller Centre complex courtyard. So when I returned to NYC, I too headed off on Harry’s itinerary. A service at St Patrick’s prevented me from accessing the ‘Our Lady of New York’ chapel that Harry describes. He loved the statue of Mary, the tapestry screen, candles and flowers. Luckily it will still be there next time I come.
In the Rockefeller complex Harry would look at the statue of Prometheus and the towering building above it and think to himself ‘I know the man who created all this, know him intimately.” And then he would never leave without looking at the great block of granite on which is carved the Creed of John D. Rockefeller. You won’t be able to read it off this picture so I have typed it at the bottom of this post. I too find it very inspiring and can see how it shaped what Rockefeller did as well as influenced Harry too.
Standing at that spot, nearly at the conclusion of my 9 week trip, I felt really very emotional. The partnership between Harry and Rockefeller was key to the whole story and whilst Rockefeller funded many many buildings and institutions, I like to think that the I-Houses would have been ones he was particularly proud of.
I was able to carry on these reflections as I reached I-House entering by that familiar entrance to so many on Claremont Avenue. I was to spend my first night in the House in one of the very comfortable guest suites.
My final event was to be at the apartment of the very wonderful I-House NYC alumna, Anita Haravon. Unbeknown to me she had been plotting with my partner Chris and others as the event was also on the eve of my 50th Birthday on the 11th of March. Co-incidentally Harry and I share a birthday, he would have been 136!
Anita’s wonderful planning paid off and we had a cross section of NYC I-House alumni from current residents to those who had lived at the House in the 1960s. It was a Pot Luck dinner, which included Ghanaian food, Thai food, Chinese Fortune Cookies (mine said Travel was on the horizon!!) and baked goods from Maine. The piece de resistance was the cake that Anita had arranged which was travel and I-House themed. For those who need to know it was chocolate inside with bergamot filling and it did not last long.
It was a brilliant evening celebrating all that is I-House. I was sung Happy Birthday in multiple languages including Chinese and Parsi. I also received I-House related presents of a sweatshirt and umbrella.
At this last event I was enveloped in warmth and gratitude for the time spent living at the House and to Harry for having the idea and realising it. It was also tinged with some sadness that it marked the last event in my trip and emotion as I reflected on my journey.
We lit the round the world candle for one last time along with the four coloured candles from I-House Chicago. Anita had also bought me a final candle for me to take home to the UK, it is beautifully scented.
Thanks to an early flight from Chicago being combined with losing an hour in daylight saving changes, it had been a very long day, so I was quickly asleep in my I-House guest bed. I was awake early though on my birthday morning and so set out to wander the House before the residents got up to start their week. It was a perfect blue sky morning dawning as I looked out of the windows of the Main Lounge over Sakura Park to Riverside Church. When Harry and Florence stood at the same window in 1924 after the House was built, their view would have been different as the Church was yet to be built and the park was not as it is today, however Harry would have seen the view with both as they are today many times.
The house is so full of history and as I wandered through the rooms and looked at the Chairman’s corner pictures. I was reminded of what my great grandmother Florence had inscribed in the elevators when the House opened. “This is a House of echoes, whatever of love, friendship and goodwill you sing into it, will come back to you.”
Ice Cream Romance – Helena Dona – When Helena Dona arrived from her home in South America at I-House she was feeling somewhat overwhelmed and emotional at coming to live in NYC and leaving her family. In the elevator she noticed a sign for an Ice Cream social that evening and so decided that she should make the effort and go. She got her ice-cream and decided to sit apart from everyone else in a corner of the patio as she did not actually feel like socialising. However one man, Mitchell Hayes, an Australian resident, had other ideas. Mitchell, went over and started to talk to Helena and somehow the conversation went on all evening. Some 5 years later Mitchell called Don Cuneo (the Director at the time) and asked permission to have his own Ice-Cream social on the patio of the House so that he could propose to Helena, of course Don said yes. Arriving at the House, Helena was puzzled when Mitchell led her over to the usually alarmed doors onto the patio. However the doors opened and no alarm sounded. Out on the patio at the same table where they had met on her first day at the House, was ice cream and roses. Mitchell proposed with an audience of curious residents looking out of their windows at the scene below. Helena said yes and they have now been married for 5 years. For those that have to know the Ice-Cream flavour they met over and got engaged over was Chocolate.
Deja Vu – Sanya Lilly – Sanya lived at I-House NYC and when her father came to visit her and looked out of her window, that overlooked Sakura Park, he kept saying that it looked familiar. It was not until Sanya started to research her family history and looked into her Yugoslavian Uncle Milan Popovic that she discovered that he had been one of the first batch of residents at the House in 1925. She got his Ellis Island arrival record and it said that he was to live at 500 Riverside Drive, and written above it by hand was ‘International House’. Sanya’s father was much younger than his brother and so did not visit him at the House but must have seen pictures taken from his brother’s room which is why he had the sense of deja vu. Milan met his wife a Canadian, Fairlie Honeyman whilst at the House.
John D. Rockefeller Creed – I Believe.
I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession a duty.
I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.
I believe in the dignity of labour, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.
I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.
I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.
I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character – not wealth or power or position – is of supreme worth.
I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.
I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfilment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.
I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.
My first ever trip to Chicago was going to be a brief one. Chicago was not on Harry’s original itinerary, however from the moment I connected with Denise Jorgens, the current I-House Chicago Executive Director, she convinced me that I could not do this trip without visiting all 3 original Rockefeller Houses. As I had already booked the majority of my flights and my timeline was pretty set, it meant that this would be a flying visit.
Denise’s husband Anil Trivedi, is an I-House NYC alum, so to me they are the ultimate I-House couple and are able to carry forward the I-House spirit respecting the history and evolving to keep up with changes in the wider world of student life.
Denise and Anil had first met with Chris and I in Tokyo when they happened to be there at the same time and seeing my candle relay in action inspired Denise to say that we could have a candlelight ceremony when I visited which was so exciting.
The Chicago House was the 3rd of the original Rockefeller Houses and was opened in 1932. They always wanted a House on each coast and one in the middle. Chicago seemed the obvious choice and it also had quite a significant international student population (c1000) in the late 1920s. Once Harry had helped agree the site, the building seems to have gone quite smoothly. Keeping continuity of Directors seemed to be more of the issue.
The House’s life has not been without ups and downs, including in its more recent history nearly being pulled down, but a concerted campaign by alumni saw it given a reprieve. It has also been extensively and carefully restored as well as continuing to modernise including making it wheelchair accessible. All around the House there are reminders of the history.
A couple of things really stand out about Chicago, one is that unlike all the other Houses I have visited they rarely rent their facilities to generate income, but keep them for internal and resident programs. The second thing is the very extensive program of events that are open to the wider Chicago community. Covering music, politics, dance, international affairs, film, literature, their program really does have something for everyone. https://ihouse.uchicago.edu/events/
Due to a lack of undergraduate accommodation on campus at the moment, the House is home to a fully undergraduate set of residents, but Denise continues to campaign for the House to be reverted to be a home for graduates as it was originally intended. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this will happen in stages over the next few years as other accommodation on the campus comes on line.
I have never attended a candlelight ceremony so I was so touched when Denise said that we could have one at Chicago. Her team went to so much trouble to make the evening perfect. Denise talked about the International Houses World Wide group and then I shared my reflections on my trip, this being the penultimate stop.
Harry ‘borrowed’ the Candlelight Ceremony from the YWCA. Just after I-House NYC was set up, his wife Florence, returned from a YWCA meeting and described this ceremony they had done with candles, pledging to pass the light on. Harry immediately saw that this would be a great tradition at the House and started it, obviously tweaking it so that representatives from each Nation came up to light their candle and then having everyone light their candle before the reading of the pledge. Today I-House NYC, Berkeley and Chicago all do the Ceremony as I believe do the Houses in Australia.
Three of the current Fellows led the ceremony and the pledge was read in 7 languages – English, Persian, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian. It was very moving. We then went on to have a delicious dinner of foods from around the world.
All in all despite the pouring rain my day at Chicago I-House was so full of warmth and welcome it was truly memorable and huge thanks go to Denise and her team.
Room with a View – Christina Whack – Christina joined us for the Candlelight Ceremony, she is an I-House alumna, who was studying Opera singing whilst at the House. She now performs in other genres https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncGv4rXwaTo and has all been working with her mother Rita Coburn Whack on the acclaimed documentary about Maya Angelou ‘And Still I Rise” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ihsqa4mVjEw Whilst at the House Christina took a number of jobs including being the Production Assistant / Technician for events. This had some advantages including being offered a room on the 11th floor in one of the towers of the House which had windows on two sides and afforded a beautiful view down the Hudson for Christina to wake up to every day.
In the UK, I-House New York alumni are organised by a wonderful set of Trustees into the Friends of I-House UK (FIHUK) so I was looking forward to the event kindly hosted by Maurits and Erika Dolmans at their beautiful home in Hampstead.
Between my visits to ISH London and Goodenough College I nipped down the Jubilee Line on the Tube to Westminster to visit Westminster Abbey. In his letter at the end of his trip, Harry picked out 3 spots that had meant a great deal to him on his trip for their links to the I-House “Brotherhood” prevailing moto. He writes “In Westminster Abbey, London, is a Plaque of the brothers John and Charles Wesley, Founders of Methodism, with the inscription, ‘The world is our parish’.” So I thought I would go and find it too.
Arriving at Westminster Abbey I discovered that to visit it is now £22! So I went and explained my mission to the door security who then arranged for me to be met by a colleague who took me straight to the plaque and the also showed me the YMCA window in memory of the founder Sir George Williams (I had always thought the YMCA was a US founded movement but it seems not), sadly I wasn’t able to photograph it but a picture available at https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/sir-george-williams-ymca
The Wesley Plaque was slightly obstructed by things being stored in front of it but I did capture a picture below. I am sure as a former employee of the YMCA Harry would also have been interested in the window too.
In the section in his memoirs about the 1966 trip Harry describes the London event, which was held at the English Speaking Union, https://www.esu.org. “there were 40 or 50 gathered, I wondered why there was so much enthusiasm, because I wouldn’t say the English are over-given to rah-rah-rah. But there was this very jovial atmosphere, and I discovered that there were 5 couples in the group who had romanced at IH, which had glorified the place to them beyond all description. It was most enjoyable.” This was particularly relevant to our hosts for the evening, Maurits and Erika, as they met at the NYC House and their son also met his wife there! In fact there were two further Sakura sweetheart couples represented at the gathering so we nearly matched Harry’s total.
The Dolmans have a very beautiful house in Hampstead which is perfect for a party and so we had a lively evening of reminiscences and conversation. We were blessed with a good number of musicians who reminded us of how the diversity of institutions that people study at whilst living at I-House NYC is one of its great joys as the range of subjects and disciplines adds another layer of breadth to the range of nations represented.
One area of interesting discussion was about the relatively recent addition of Televisions to the Dining Hall at I-House NYC and how bringing the outside in potentially distracts from the interaction over food that has so long been a key tenant of the Houses. Not only do you get drawn to the moving pictures, but you also potentially loose the richness of the opportunity of hearing and debating news from many angles, sometimes with direct contact to the area the news is coming from, rather than the perspective of what is presented by a US new channel. (Note: that when I stayed at I-House on March 10th 2019 there were now no TVs again in the dining commons, as far as I could see)
Attendees in London:
Patrick and Margherita Von Aulock, James Davenport, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Pankaj Kumar, Ruth Waterman, Thomas Hazleton, Adela Suliman, Diane Bickley and Jonathan Burton, Vish Wanaathg, Erol and Denise Gelenbe, Emily Rose, Annabelle Yap and Benjamin Lim, Barnaby Hughes, Fabian Graimann and Kim Chan, Patricia Hamzahee, Maurits Dolmans
I-House Musical – Emily Rose – Emily wrote a musical about I-House NYC and was part of a group that performed it in the great lounge that overlooks Sakura Park. She described with enthusiasm the different songs as well as the artistic process to bring it to its audience. Firstly as it is not possible to close the lounge, being a thoroughfare to other parts of the House, it meant that rehearsals which needed to be ‘site specific’ had to be done with an audience. Groups of other residents would be ‘studying’ in other areas of the room whilst they were rehearsing. The production was also a lesson in compromise and tolerance as director, choreographer, conductor and cast often had strong and differing views on how things should be done. These discussions were often undertaken with some passion and volume, much to the delight of the rehearsal audience. In fact the inter-cast and production team drama proved great fuel for the I-House grapevine. The production was a great success and following Emily’s vivid descriptions, the FIHUK team are thinking that a production at the Freunde IH / FIUK events in autumn 2020 would be a good plan so watch this space.
I was re-joined in Helsinki by my partner Chris which was very lovely and after settling into our Airbnb we even managed to find a Finnish restaurant, The Sea Horse for dinner, which is a rarity.
Once again the blue skies were following me so we were able to explore the seaside of Helsinki and the ice on the beach, a first for me.
Kaarin Taipale recommended Edberg Cafe as our Helsinki gathering point as it is one of the oldest cafes in town, founded in 1852. So perhaps Harry would have visited it on one of his trips here. She also advised I book which was lucky as is particularly busy at weekends.
There are probably rarely more than two Finns at any one time in the New York I-House so the numbers of alumni are small and many of them also live outside Finland, so I was very happy to have Anna-Maija Lindholm and Kaarin agree to meet me. I was especially touched as Anna-Maija and her husband Pekka (who has now been to so many I-House events and stayed there many times that he really is an honorary resident) delayed their trip to Spain to escape the Finnish winter so they could meet me.
Kaarin and Anna-Maija’s have both been long term I-House supporters and members of the World Council of Alumni but had never met before. Both had lots of memories of creating new international friends and developing new interests. For Anna-Maija, it was the many contemporary dance performances, that she attended with a fellow resident who was studying dance notation.
The Ekberg waitress was very helpful and offered to bring dishes for the candles to sit on and provided very smart Ekberg matches in a good old fashioned box.
My library quest in Helsinki continued to be interesting as Oodi the Helsinki Central Library only opened in December and it is an amazing space. The whole 2nd floor is devoted to meeting and working space along with the provision of other resources such as sewing machines, 3D printers, poster plotters or computer gaming rooms, which the locals can use.
There was a more limited selection of digitised newspapers and they only run up to 1950 so sadly no opportunity to look for Harry’s 1966 trip, but the librarian did find an article from 1928 about the New York House referring to the Cosmopolitan Club which was the club Harry and Cleveland Dodge started in 1910 after Harry met the Chinese student.
Saint Lucia Day at I-House – Anna-Maija Lindholm – In December Finns and other Scandinavian countries celebrate St Lucia Day. Whilst at the House Anna-Maija and the other Scandinavians decided to put on a St Lucia celebration. A suitably blond lady of the group was chosen as St Lucia and dressed accordingly with the headdress of real candles and her court of ladies were dressed in white sheets to escort her to the gathering. They started singing, accompanied by Anders Paulsson (see my Swedish Post), at the top of the grand staircase and with the enclosed acoustic sounded wonderful. They had also made Glögi, which is the Finnish version of mulled wine, which not only includes wine but often Vodka or other spirits to give it a greater kick. It seems that this batch had definitely been given the extra kick as Anna-Maija recalls those not aware of its potential strength, getting drunk very quickly! Anna-Maija was also the donor of the Finnish flag to the House as there was not one before she arrived.
The Wrong Bus – Kaarin Taipale – Kaarin recalled being out in the winter coming back to the House from down town and realising too late that she had managed to get onto an Express bus that went sailing past the House and into the areas that were a definite no go in those days. Kaarin recalls being in a very distraught and tearful state and not knowing where she was when suddenly a police car appeared as if by magic and she was rescued!
Semla are a special bun eaten in Sweden and also other Nordic countries (although each is a little different) originally just on Shrove Tuesday before Lent started, but was expanded to every Tuesday during Lent at some point in its history. They have nothing to do with Harry and his trip but as I am here and they are available, in the spirit of international food experiences, obviously I had to try one. It is a cardamon flavoured bun filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream. According to Jussi Karlgren, who I met for breakfast (note the bun was eaten later as it is a bit much even for me at breakfast time!) the really authentic ones have a triangle shaped bun cap dusted with icing sugar perched on top of the mountain of cream. So this is a good one.
As I have pretty much no information about Harry’s time in the Nordic countries I thought I would see if he had had any press coverage as he seemed to in many of my previous stops, so I headed to the National Library of Sweden.
It is a while since I have been to a big library, so once I had navigated the system to leave your belongings in lockers and take your essentials in a plastic bag into the area where the books and media are, I headed down to the Newspaper Archive section. A very charming lady helped me get set up and search the digitised archive of Swedish language newspapers. Sadly the search did not come up with anything from Harry’s 1966 trip but it did come up with lots of other references to International House, Harry and also Rockefeller’s involvement. It looks like they did a good job of PR at the opening of the House in 1924 with quite a bit of coverage and further coverage in the late 20s and 30s.
It looks like Harry probably visited Stockholm whilst he was in Europe around 1935/36 and again in 1953. One thing about Harry was that he never gave up and I think he lived his life in optimism that in every country he would find the people who would facilitate the opening of a new House. In Sweden it looks as though his efforts focused around a club for International Students being run by the business school now the Stockholm School of Economics.
It seems that a lady called Ingeborg Axén was involved in the plan and that money was not the issue but land was. Much of Stockholm was re-built during the 50s and 60s to a master plan and getting access to land to build things that were not on the plan was a challenge. As there are no more references to this potential House that I could find, I can only imagine that it never happened.
There may also have been a plan in 1960 to have an International House funded by the Rotary in Goteborg, there is no reference to Harry being involved so it may have been completely separate, although it is interesting that it was Rotary funding that helped build I-House Sydney.
Looking for articles about Harry’s 1966 tour I also came across articles documenting the visit of the two Swedish Princesses, Desiree and Birgitta, to Chicago in November 1960 which tells of them having lunch at the I-House.
Those of you following my trip will know that Stockholm has been one of my more challenging places to find people to meet, so no big gathering was possible here, but I was able to connect over email with a number of alumni and meet with two of them separately.
Jussi Karlgren had two stints at I-House NYC one when he was a bachelor, 89/90, and a later one, 95/96, when his wife and two very small sons came with him and lived in one of the flats. He is actually 1/2 Finnish and told me how with another Fin they had the Finnish stall at All Nations. They managed to get sponsorship from an importer of cheese, who provided them with a mountain of Finnish cheese (yes apparently it is a thing) and they found some black bread and did a roaring trade in cheese sandwiches.
His other recollection was of parties thrown by a young trustee of I-House at his very cool Central Park West apartment. Every month the trustee would put up a sign up list on the Claremont side notice board and when the numbered slots were full the list came down and those on the list were invited to the party. It was Beer and Pizza and also some additional lady guests from Barnard college! Somehow Jussi managed to get on the list a number of times….
My second rendez vous was with I-House NYC alum Anders Paulsson, who is a wonderful saxophonist and also passionate advocate for the preservation of coral reefs. He has managed to combine coral reef preservation, music and science in projects in Hawaii, Philippines, Stockholm, Costa Rica and Zanzibar and this year he will travel to Liberia to work with musicians there too http://www.coralguardians.org
The strangest thing meet Anders was that we quickly found out that both of us had volunteered in the 1990s for the same UK NGO, Coral Cay Conservation, which had taken us both to dive for extended periods in Belize and also the Philippines off Negros on Danjugan Island. We obviously had not done it at exactly the same time and Anders’ experience has inspired him to found the Coral Guardians project and also to compose related music. My diving was curtailed by the arrival of my children but meeting Anders has reminded me of how important this part of my life once was so one I must revisit.
Anders was a Fulbright Scholar and went to NYC to further his music studies on the soprano saxophone through the study of Jazz at the Manhattan School of Music. Arriving in 1985 at the House, he was presented a booklet on how to be streetwise in New York City, the contents of which were somewhat alarming. So much so it was about a week before Anders ventured out of the House. Being a lover of nature, Anders had a room over looking the park, unlike Jussi, who said that he had one of the cheapest rooms in the House but did have a distant river view courtesy of the guy in the room across from him who never drew the curtains!
One of Anders’ precious memories is of tutoring a young man in English spelling as part of the Harlem Tuition Program and of taking his tutee and mum onto the roof of I-House to show them the view. His other vivid recollection was of being stopped in the hall by a fellow Swede and being told the news that the Prime Minster of Sweden, Olof Palme, had been assassinated whilst walking home from the cinema with his wife. (Feb 28th 1986).
Anders had the privilege of playing for Nelson Mandela and also to compose a CELEBRATION SUITE for South Africa Celebrating 20 years of Democracy. http://anderspaulsson.se/site/tag/south-africa/ He said to me that in South Africa they had taught him that we are all one race – human, just with different ethnic origins, so the concept of racism is therefore absurd. Harry would have liked that thought.
As some of you know I have been trying to send my children postcards from every destination which has almost been harder than finding alumni to meet with! Two Postcard related things from this stop, first once I had finally found a post office which was in itself a challenge, Sweden turns out to be my most expensive postcard sending yet. 21Kr for each stamp which is approximately $2. The young lady at the counter said it is because they upped the stamp cost to handle things up to 50gms?!? It is a very pretty stamp though, in fact I was offered the choice two either the Tulip or the Queen.
The other news is that the handprinted card of an elephant bought in Mumbai and posted in Beirut at AUB (see post about postcards) did actually arrive in the UK! It took 19 days but it got there.
Where we ate – Vete-Katte, a wonderful old pastry and coffee shop, has two distinct halves to it and in fact two counters. The front is shiny and new and the back is quaint and cosy – definitely go to the back http://vetekatten.se/en/