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.
I find returning home after a long trip a mixed blessing, on the one hand comfortingly nothing has really changed and we still have not sorted Brexit! On the other it is easy to be lulled back into old routines and patterns which new experiences from the trip could fracture and open up new possibilities. So whilst I ponder the deeper reflections on my trip and work out my next steps, I offer up some thoughts and observations from travelling to 18 countries in succession.
Being itinerant and basically not cooking a meal for 11 weeks, I became very aware of the amount of single use plastic and other packaging that is associated with food on the go and also food waste. Despite new legislation particularly in India, there is a long way to go to reduce packaging and recycle more. As I moved out of Asia / India into Europe I certainly felt that there was more opportunity to decline over packaged goods and also a greater focus on recycling and finding new solutions.
Worst – JFK 2.5 hours at the start of my trip and Istanbul 1 hour
Best – Tokyo – 2 minutes with extra staff poised to help if any line appeared
Best – Mumbai from Delhi – got off plane and walked c 5 minutes to the baggage hall and the bags were already going round
Worst – Berlin – the baggage hall was in sight of the airplane but still took over 45 minutes to start arriving
Airport transfers to centre of town
Cheapest – Delhi Metro to Connaught Place price approximately 3 English Pence or about 4 US Cents
Most Expensive – Arlanda Express in Sweden!
Least available tap water (in a country where the water is safe to drink) – Berlin – even though the water from the tap is perfectly safe to drink, no one seems to and restaurants are reluctant to let you have some as they like to charge about €6 per bottle!
Most available – Stockholm and Norway – where you are encouraged to not use single use plastic bottles and there are always water fountains or jugs at every restaurant available to use for free.
In Denmark they charge you for tap water in restaurants sometimes €3 or €4, but I learnt from my Danish friends that they cannot charge you if you go in and ask for it without ice!
Great – Tokyo – the hotel gave us a ‘pocket wifi’ to use while we stayed in the city, you connected your devices to it and then carried it about with you so you were always online
Ticket processes for public transport
Worst – San Francisco BART – the machine was so confusing that we needed considerable help from a very kind local to work out how to choose the ticket and pay
Most trusting – Berlin S-Bhan – not a ticket barrier in site, you buy a ticket from the machine and validate it and there are no other checks (although I assume there must be occasional ticket inspector checks somewhere) – also if you have a monthly season ticket you can take a friend for free at the weekends or late evenings.
Challenging – everywhere that the machines were supposed to take bank notes – mostly they spat them back out as they did not like their texture, wrinkles or tears!
Curious – Paris – the ticket machine has a strange roller you use to select what you want to buy and then you confirm with another button.
Frustrating – Istanbul – If you buy a single 5 Lira ticket for the Metro you cannot transfer between lines, an Istanbul Kart is a must.
Worst – Manila – still very much work in progress
Delightful – Athens – you can take the tram from central Athens all the way through the suburbs and then along the coast to the beach all for €4.5 getting off and on as many times as you want during the day
Crime challenged – Paris – the Metro seems to have a real problem with pick pockets – I nearly had my purse and phone stolen even with my backpack on my front rather than back, luckily I was alert to the guy ‘accidentally’ bumping me at a station stop and then realised what he was up to, but we met others who had not been so lucky.
Cash or Card
Most cash based – Manila – you could not even pay by card in Seven Eleven stores, then Bangkok
ATM Charges – Bangkok every ATM charges you at least £5 per transaction + any exchange rate charges
Cash free – I survived in Oslo and Copenhagen completely cash free – the Nordics are particularly digitally enabled
GRAB – where UBER is not in Asia – sometimes GRAB is and whilst the fare may be sometimes a bit more expensive at least it is negotiated for you
Maps.Me – Has good downloadable offline maps for when you are not on WIFI
Most Musical Transport Systems
Tokyo – every subway station has a different jingle to signal arrival and the doors closing
Berlin – high quality buskers in the carriages
Taiwan – the green man is animated and gets faster and faster to indicate that the lights will go red soon
Berlin – have East and West figures left over when there was an East and West Berlin – apparently, people like the East figures better so all lights will have these in the future
Athens – the lights assume that you can walk very fast as they change very quickly
I only had to buy visas for Turkey and India and ESTA for the USA
Everywhere else was visa on arrival or exempt as in EU or for short stays
Worst – Mumbai international airport at 5am in the morning – one man supervising the scanner and people putting their stuff on the conveyor
Best – Tokyo – everything is super shiny and you see people cleaning all aspects of the subway and other public spaces
Grubby – Paris – whilst not covered in litter Paris gives the impression of being dirty and in need of a good clean
Delhi and Mumbai – Mumbai is cleaner than it used to be but still commercial, building and personal waste and rubbish are still a major issue here and in Delhi.
Most challenging – Delhi, not only because of the state of the pavements but also because of the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers looking for a ride or the young men who want to chat or sell you something the moment you slow your step or look like you don’t know where you are going
Most challenging with wheelie luggage – Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki, which all had their winter gravel out to prevent pedestrians slipping but it makes wheeling a bag even short distances challenging.
Overall I walked most places in most cities rather than taking public transport, I love seeing the day to day life of people and how the different areas change.
Most challenging – Beirut very hard to find a post office that would send my cards, they did however arrive in the UK eventually
Most expensive stamp – Copenhagen, a whopping 30kr or £3.50 for a postcard stamp hotly followed by Stockholm, 21kr or about £2 for a postcard stamp, the Swedish postcard did arrive in the UK in 2 days so at least it was speedy
I was very struck by the sheer volume of shopping space currently in place and being built pretty much everywhere I visited but particularly in Asia. In fact I found it somewhat depressing, whilst economies rely on us buying stuff, I was left wondering if we really need so much stuff and imagining that so much of it would shortly find its way into landfill. The other trend which I found sad was the desire to move away from more traditional shops or street markets and bring everything inside air conditioned shopping malls. Although people may be more comfortable shopping in the cooled environment I think interaction and experience will be poorer for it.
Best Mango – Bangkok
Best Fish – Hawaii
Best Carbonara – Rome
Best ‘seasonal bun’ – Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki where the Semla pre-Lent buns were in ‘season’, they involve a lot of cream and sugar so not really slimming
Fanciest meal – Mandarin Oriental for lunch with Larry Kwok – everything was delicious and beautifully presented
Bread and Pastries – as the world’s food seems to be over run by global brands, it is the bread and pastries that seem to stay local and loved in each county.
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.
It is a very long time since I last came to Copenhagen. We drove up from Belgium when I was 6 or 7 to stay with friends of my parents, I don’t remember much apart from going to Tivoli Gardens and looking across the water and my mum telling me I could see Sweden.
It was in fact Sweden across the now bridge, that was my first port of call after arriving in Copenhagen. I had been connected with an alumna from I-House Sydney who lives in Malmo, Linda Jonsson. We had a delightful evening discussing educational approaches around the world as she is an IB teacher in an international school.
My only I-House NYC alum at this stop was Lars-Erik Houmann Christensen. He has a wonderful office in an old building in the centre of town. Over some very lovely traditional pastries we discussed student housing and how Harry’s ideas could fit in the current market place for developing new places for international graduate students to live in Copenhagen and beyond. I failed to get a photo of us so one of the square his office is on will have to do!
I wanted to see if I could find Danish press articles about Harry’s 1966 trip. I was searching at the rather aptly names Black Diamond building which is the Det Kongelige Bibliotek and had just found the relevant article when the power failed across that part of Copenhagen. Keen to get the article, I waited nearly an hour until the lights came back on, however the computer system did not so I had to abandon the idea. I did ask a librarian very nicely if she would find it and email it to me, so we will see…
It is not easy to find restaurants in the Nordics that serves the local food at reasonable prices, but with the help of Jake Kirk Pedersen (I-House Berkeley) we met at Klubben which manages just that. The portions were enormous and I tried the Danish meatballs which are different to the Swedish ones as they are friend not boiled and are accompanied by creamed cabbage.
We were joined by Julie Thayer Elming (I-House Berkeley) and John Venning (ISH London) and his wife Inez. With a wonderfully diverse set of backgrounds our conversation ranged from music to catalytic chemistry, from international education to digital journalism as well as friends and love formed at the different Houses. John met his first wife, a Greek lady, at ISH London when he was there in the late 1960s.
One of John’s hobbies is photography, so he bought his camera and accessories with him to the restaurant and so we have some slightly more glamorous shots than usual from his lens.
Julie had her I-House Berkeley umbrella with her to survive the rainy Copenhagen night. It still has an ‘If Found’ sticker saying Piedmont Avenue on it!
Jack provided the lovely green candle to go onto London and was the recipient of Anna-Maija’s white handmade, heart shaped Finnish candle, quite appropriate as Jack met Serena his Hong Kong Chinese girlfriend at I-House and we are all hoping that it continues as a beautiful I-House love story.
Danish Press article (kindly translated by Julie):
83-Year-Old Goes Around the World for Old Students
The founder of International House, Harry Edmonds, in Copenhagen (04-03-1966)
An 83-year-old American, Mr. Harry Edmonds, has arrived in Copenhagen, which is one of the last stops on his 104-day long world tour.
Harry Edmonds is the founder of International House in New York, which houses 500 students from a number of countries, during their studies in the USA.
International House is the life’s work of Harry Edmonds, but he has now reached an age, where his daily presence at the student house is no longer required, which is why he has set out on the strenuous journey to visit as many International House alums as possible all around the world.
The journey started out by passing the Pacific Ocean to Asia, where many trusty old students gathered to meet him. Now Harry Edmonds has arrived in Copenhagen, after a visit to Rom, Paris, Berlin. He was recently the center of attention at a celebration at The Royal Hotel, where 25 Danes, who were all former residents of International House, where present.
Yesterday Harry Edmonds toured Copenhagen with two of his dearest Danish students, the sisters Olga Butterworth and Hildur Lange, who arrive at International House just a few years after its construction I 1924.
The world tour goes from Copenhagen to the other Nordic capitals and afterwards to London, before returning home to International House in New York.
Image text: The 83-year-old Harry Edmonds is resting by the statue of Hans Christian Andersen with the sisters Hildur Lange and Olga Butterworth.
Love makes the world go round – Linda Jonsson – When Linda was at I-House Sydney, she would often go to the movies with her two best friends. One evening they were not available so she joined a group of 3 other girls to go and see a film. It was a romantic comedy and they all enjoyed the film. When they came out they were all exchanging their admiration for the rather handsome male lead in the film and the romantic storyline. It suddenly struck Linda that between them they represented 4 continents and 3 religions yet the themes of the film around love and romance were universally understood. It is a story that she uses with her students to this day when exploring how we are all more similar than different
Partying with I-House Friends in NYC – Julie Thaysen Elming – Julie was at I-House Berkeley in 2016 whilst she studied Media and Journalism. When her mum came to visit her and saw the Hall of History pictures she made a connection to Julie’s grandfather’s memoirs as he had written about attending wonderful parties with I-House residents in New York whilst he was living in the city as a medical scholar at Rockefeller. He was not a resident but as the international community was much smaller then in NYC he knew people who were and attended events with them. He wrote about how he admired the way the House tackled cultural divides at the time (especially in the wake of WWII).
Chance Encounter – Lars-Erik Houmann Christensen – A good number of years after living there Lars-Erik decided to stay back at I-House NYC when visiting on business. Returning from his meetings he decided to go into the Pub for old times sake. Walking in to his surprise, he found one of his best friends from his time at the House sat at the bar. The Australian in question explained that on Wednesday evenings some of the alumni who are in town sometimes come back for a drink (I am not sure if this still happens before you all rush to go). Lars-Erik and his Australian friend had a wonderful evening and Lars-Erik was reminded of his friend Anu Sid Hittle who lived in Hawaii, who he had not been in contact with for some time. So he decided he would get back in touch. He picked up the phone and called her number. A lady answered the phone and as soon as Lars-Erik spoke she said ‘Hello Lars-Erik’ instantly recognising his voice even after all the years. They have since met up in their home countries and countries in between and it is Anu who connected me to Lars-Erik too.
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/