Monday, May 18, 2009

"If I had my way, I would introduce everyone in the whole world to each other."

For thirty years, Jim Haynes has been throwing dinner parties in his Paris apartment/sculpture studio. Every Sunday night, 50-100 people crowd into his home, overflowing into the garden in nice weather to eat a homecooked meal and meet interesting people. Some guests are old friends of Jim's, but lots (like me) are perfect strangers who have heard about his dinner parties and called him up to invite themselves over to dinner.

Every week the first 50 or 60 people who get in touch with Jim get an invitation to the salon, and all of his guests are treated like friends. When I showed up nearly an hour late after yet another metro catastrophe, he put a plate of food in my hand, pointed me to the bar and found me a seat next to a woman who has been going to his parties since they began in the 1960s. "This is Rachel, everybody. She's just moved here from Canada. Be nice to her." And then he was off to do the same for someone else. He didn't find it at all strange that a 23 year old Canadian he'd never met had invited herself to dinner - it happens every week. And he's trying to spread his brand of hospitality - he has published a series of travel books about Eastern Europe, that don't include hotels or maps or monuments; just biographies of people he's met who are willing to welcome travellers.

While there seemed to be a group of regular guests, there were also dozens of people like me, who'd heard about Jim's dinners from a friend, or on NPR or some other bit of press he'd done and wanted to check one out. And everyone's got a story.

I met a woman named Gerri, in her late sixties how, who had moved to Paris when she was 20 years old to open the first American nightclub. "I was a Gaslight Girl," she explained, pulling out old black and white photographs of herself dancing in seamed stockings and a scandalously short skirt. She and six other girls from Chicago had been flown to Paris to sing and dance for American soldiers in the Gaslight Club. She even broke into song at one point, and I have never felt so much like I was living in the middle of a New Yorker feature.

(NPR piece on Jim here, and Guardian article here for those of you who are interested in that kind of hospitality, and you know who you are. Your bandanas give you away.)


  1. Wow, this sounds like such a unique experience. I need to seek out strangeness more in my life.

  2. I'm checking into flights to Paris, right now, that will put me there by dinner time on Sunday. Thank you for living a life that I would.