Greeters pro­grams ex­pand around the globe

Cape Breton Post - - DESTINATIONS - BY PAULINE FROMMER

It was a star­tling sight: Abra­ham Lin­coln, about 40 feet tall, cor­dially dis­cussing a piece of pa­per with a con­tem­po­rary fel­low, nearly as tall and wear­ing a ca­ble-knit sweater, out­side the build­ing that houses the Chicago Tri­bune.

“Who is he talk­ing to? And why?” I asked Bill, my elo­quent Chicago Greeters guide, as we stared up at the gi­ant sculp­tures.

It was the first time I’d stumped Bill all morn­ing. For the past two hours, he’d been tak­ing me on an eru­dite, com­pelling tour of the Loop (a down­town district) of Chicago, past im­por­tant works of pub­lic art, through labyrinthine un­der­ground tun­nels of govern­men­tal agen­cies and into of­fice-build­ing lob­bies that just hap­pened to have daz­zling mo­saics by Louis Com­fort Tif­fany. Along the way, I’d been re­galed with sto­ries about the great Chicago fire; early bat­tles be­tween ex­plor­ers and Na­tive Amer­i­cans; and why cer­tain ar­eas of the city are dan­ger­ous, while oth­ers one can wan­der through with few wor­ries.

And the tour was ab­so­lutely free — just as it would have been in Tel Aviv, Is­rael; Mar­seille, France; Manila, Philip­pines; Zurich, Switzer­land; Kolkata, In­dia; and also Shang­hai, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Tokyo and scores of other cities around the globe.

The Chicago Greeters are part of a grow­ing net­work of or­ga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cated to pro­mot­ing cul­tural un­der­stand­ing. If you go to the Global Greeters Net­work (http://glob­al­greeter­snet­work.info), a hub for this move­ment, you’ll find that there are greeters pro­grams cur­rently in 132 des­ti­na­tions — even in places as far-flung as Togo (which has four cities par­tic­i­pat­ing). What they all have in com­mon is their price (free) and their ground rules: tours never ac­com­mo­date more than six peo­ple and are al­ways led by vol­un­teers.

In­ter­est­ingly, these vol­un­teers will try to shape the tour to the vis­i­tor’s spe­cial in­ter­ests, when they can — a won­der­ful perk. That meant that when I went to Ja­maica and did the “Peo­ple to Peo­ple” pro­gram (dif­fer­ent name, same con­cept) I was in­vited into a lo­cal’s home, where I, an avid home cook, learned to make the na­tional dishes of that coun­try.

In New York City, my home, I took a tour of an area of the Bronx that I didn’t know, with a Big Ap­ple Greeter who had me duck­ing in and out of bode­gas, churches, shops ded­i­cated to Catholic icons and com­mu­nity cen­ters. I felt like I’d dis­cov­ered a new na­tion, just a few sub­way stops from where I live.

And Bill from Chicago had re­cently cre­ated, at the re­quest of a 20-some­thing Chi­nese trav­eller, a tour that goes to Chicago film lo­ca­tions, only from movies filmed in the last decade.

I’m not sure if Bill felt the need to give more info to that tourist af­ter the af­ter­noon’s out­ing, but he did with me. A day af­ter we had our de­light­ful walk, he emailed me an ar­ti­cle about the stat­ues. They were meant to show Abra­ham Lin­coln ex­plain­ing the Get­tys­burg Ad­dress to an av­er­age Joe (who held it in his hand), and its mean­ing for to­day’s so­ci­ety.

Well, I’ll be darned. Thanks, Bill.

Pauline Frommer is the Editorial Di­rec­tor for the Frommer Travel Guides and From­mers.com. She co-hosts the ra­dio pro­gram “The Travel Show” with her fa­ther, Arthur Frommer and is the au­thor of the best-sell­ing “Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City.”

PAULINE FROMMER PHOTO

A re­flec­tion of visi­tors to Chicago’s Cloud Gate pub­lic sculp­ture, part of the Greeters tour.

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