By now some of you know that I’m a Big Apple Greeter. It’s a volunteer position that puts me in touch with people from around the country and the world. I get to practice my language skills, the word “skills” being used with great recklessness. My Spanish is quite rudimentary, my French more fractured than Evil Kenevil, and my German is mainly useful for ordering vegetarian fare in Austria. I choose to accompany visitors who speak at least some English, and most foreigners are much more adept at it than they think they are. And so, we manage very well, especially when my talent at charades kicks in.
It’s a pleasure for me to mine my resources to focus on their interests. If those interests dovetail with my own (which is easy, considering I’m known to follow glitter in the air) well then, it’s as much fun as finding favorite cousins are as quirky as you are.
Just to be clear, Big Apple Greeters aren’t tour guides. We don’t escort visitors to the iconic tourist spots, but rather our mandate is to introduce visitors to New York as though they were with friends, learning about how we live and work, the history and character of our neighborhoods, and sometimes even the characters in our neighborhoods.
Last summer, I spent a sunlit day with Ulla and Tilo, an interesting and lively German couple. I learned Tilo loved to cook and the three of us wound up on a culinary tour. We didn’t dine, but we looked, we smelled, we tasted, occasionally we drooled. We oohed and aahed over the wall of salts from all over the world at Kalustian, we marveled at how the marketplace Eataly, firmly situated in Manhattan, could be so redolent of Italy. They loved Trader Joe’s just as I do, even as I discovered that its outpost near Manhattan’s “Little India” could keep me in samosas forever.
Our day’s walk took us to the Strand Bookstore, a New York institution for all manner of the written word. Along with his culinary interests, Tilo had written books on photography that had been translated into English. Perhaps Strand carried them, I wondered. They didn’t, however, the clerk’s search pulled up the listings and I was thrilled — as he read out the titles and the author’s name — that for a moment Tilo was famous in The Big Apple. Compare that to hearing about the stats of the Empire State Building – no contest.
Before I left them, tired but happy in Washington Square Park, I texted a friend who has ties to Chinatown to confirm that my restaurant recommendation was still a valid one. It was.
A few weeks later I was surprised to receive the two photography books that had been published in English. Then at Christmastime, Ulla sent me a New Year’s calendar that she and Tilo print annually for family and friends. It was filled with gorgeous photos of food, mainly from their travels I suspect. Joe’s Shanghai, Chinatown, New York City, USA, is August 2019. No bloodline tied us together, but there it was, the result of a day with a wonderful pair who could easily have been those favorite cousins.
Note: BigAppleGreeter.org is a FREE Welcome Visitor Service.
Arlen Hollis Kane is a Manhattan-based award-winning healthcare writer. After reaching 50-plus years, she pursued a childhood passion and enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology. She is now a designer and maker of handbags, scarves and jewelry. Her design work in fashion blends perfectly with her art. Her photograph, City Birds, and her abstract acrylic “Big Bang,” were featured in juried shows in New York. “Off The Wall,” her one-woman show featuring both her photography and art was a major exhibit at the Gallery of the Borough President of Manhattan.