JIM HAYNES

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THE HUMAN FACTOR

by Deborah Courtnell,
The Guardian(London), August 14, 1993

Deborah Courtnell meets a veteran of the Sixties, now in pastures new with a series of People to People guides

 

JIM HAYNES is a seductive bear of a man, a sort of cross between Charles Bronson and Ernest Hemingway, brown jumper tucking neat paunch beneath immaculate cream suit. Not bad for 59. Since he isn't dead, he must be a born-again; a reincarnation from another time when people walked everywhere and talked to each other in the streets.

He has roamed across the fractured lands of modern Europe, collecting friends and addresses wholesale. Recently he held court at the Polish Cultural Institute, where he launched the latest guide in his People to People series. Standing head and shoulders above his friends - to enter the scoop of his embrace is to become a friend - he smiled and joked, gently fielding invitations to dine, make merry, stay the night.

His series is an eccentric adjunct to the man himself, an oddity among travel guides. They contain no reference to exchange rates, public transport, relics or disease. Instead, they describe Poland, divided Czechoslovakia, Romania, as no other books have before. Each slim volume contains the names and addresses of hundreds of Eastern Europeans who've been waylaid and charmed into print by Professor Jim. These are people eager to meet and know visitors from the West. From surgeons to secretaries, chemists to farmers, all ages, both sexes.

He describes them as "human resource directories". He explains: "I get a totally random selection of human beings. I realised that why someone likes a place is because they have friends there, and why somebody doesn't like it is they don't know anyone there. They're walking around a city like a dummy, wondering, Why am I here? So I decided they should have contacts, they need to meet people. Also I think, from my own experience and from observing others, if you have friends in Warsaw or Moscow it is in every way better for you. Even purely for reasons of safety. They can tell you about things, their favourite restaurants, say 'don't miss this piece of theatre'."

The first entry in the latest book (Czech-Slovakia/Hungary/Bulgaria) is Eva Sulcova's, a 21-year-old butcher. She writes: "I have one brother. Now he is unemployed. I serve as a butcher, and I work in a flesh factory. This is a small village near a big town, Karlovy Vary. I am more romanticist than realist." The little symbols reveal that her passions include George Michael, and she will not have you to stay.

Many of the entries, however, do offer modest accommodation, the chance to live in the home of a native family. The essence of the Haynes philosophy is involvement. "The traveller participates. He doesn't just take. It's not just a cheap place to stay. The hosts get as much as they give and you get as much as you give."

He tells how he and a friend, seated at a street cafe in Prague, stopped a young passer-by. He had an interesting face, the look of an intellectual. They asked him to choose his favourite restaurant that they might invite him to dinner. "He did, and we did."

Born in Louisiana, schooled in Venezuela, Haynes was sent on national service to Edinburgh, but the young American forgot to go home. In 1959 he opened the renowned Paperback Bookshop, where the flames of the Beat generation were fanned. It contained a cafe, a gallery and a theatre. Henry Miller, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg dropped by. And in 1963 he started the Traverse Theatre, which crossed most boundaries and tickled into life the fringe that would become the Edinburgh Festival.

Three years later he moved to London and opened the Arts Lab in Covent Garden, two old warehouses converted into a cinema, a theatre, a gallery and a restaurant. He also started International Times, an alternative newspaper which prompted much of the culture of the period.

A clue to his survival since lies in his attitude and lifestyle. He refuses nostalgia. "I miss everything and I miss nothing. I try to live in the present tense. I'm 59, I can't believe it. But I've always been a clean liver. I've never been a drug user and I walk everywhere. I'm also a total libertarian, so I don't condemn anyone for anything they do."

He has been professor of media studies at the Paris VIII and Vincennes University since 1969. "One thing about being a professor at a university, and I recommend it, is that I'm a multi-millionaire of free time, so I travel a lot".

"Every Sunday I have open house at my home in Paris. So lots of people come to me. Usually there are 50 or 60 at a time. People say to their friends, 'Let's meet at Jim's.' I'm like the centre of a cobweb. I put people up. There are always people staying. Another thing I do, which is a real self-indulgence, is write newsletters."

Through People To People the ardent traveller may find love, friendship or actual bodily harm. He may have unleashed a capitalist terror upon an unsuspecting East. Does he care? "It's a matter of individual responsibility. I'm trying to bring people together. If it produces 90 per cent joy and 10 per cent pain that's pretty good. I wish them bon voyage."

He slides a small piece of paper across the table. "My address," he says, "Come and stay."

 

Czech-Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria (Canongate Press pounds 4.95).

Professor Jim Haynes, Atelier A2, 83 Rue de la Tombe Issoire, 75014 Paris.

 
 
 
 
 
Deborah Courtnell©The Guardian (London), 1993

 

 

The Guardian (London), 1993 : The Human Factor

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