|Sunday dinners in Paris : just call Jim|
|by Alex Ninian
The Chicago Tribune, Sunday, 2002
/.../PARIS "Get off Metro 4 at Alesia in arrondissement 14eme and head for No. 83, rue de la Tombe Issoire."
Not the directions you'd expect for meeting a man from Louisiana. But here he is. Been here for ages and loved Paris so much that more than 25 years ago he decided to give dinner every Sunday to anyone who wanted to come. I do mean anyone who wanted to come. There have been 100,000 so far.
I got his number from a friend, along with the only rules of engagement you need to follow: "Phone before Friday and give your name.'
"Hello, is that Mr. Haynes'?"
"Do you still do your Sunday night dinners?"
"Yes. Why don't you come along?"
"I'd like to."
"Well, just give me your name."
That was it. No other questions; no ID check; no "are you American, English, black, white, young, old."
Just "come at 8 and be ready to meet a lot of people."
Alesia is a neighborhood in the 14th arrondissement of Paris unsung and almost unknown to outsiders-even to other Parisians. But it is just the kind of quarter that makes people love Paris and makes Paris-lovers live there. They say that Paris is for the man in the street, and Alesia is just that, in miniature. Unassuming, un-selfconscious, the locals, without trying to prove anything, live their lives on a human scale. They leave their apartments two or three times a day to buy fresh baguettes.
Family-run retailers Americans would know them as mom-and-pop shops have fruit stands on the sidewalk, and residents walk everywhere so that they can meet neighbors and declaim about the state of the nation, the family, the weather. The corner bar is owned and run by one man, and there the regulars solve all the other problems of the world.
No. 83 turns out to be one of these huge high Parisian green gates that you cannot see over or under or around or through, leaving you to imagine what mysteries lie behind. It is in fact an alleyway off which sits a row of ateliers, which are studios-cum-work-shops-cum-apartments. Their size was described to me by a guest from the U.S. in good old American terms of square feet, as if meters had never been invented; 900 was the estimate [84m2], and that is a good size if you like your parties of 70 or 80 people to be intimate.
It was so busy and crowded with people inside that it was hard to know which one was Jim, the host.
He was the one with the striped butcher's apron perched on a high stool by the food table, and when you introduced yourself he noted your name. He is not wacky, just eccentric; the party is not chaotic, just unstructured; and most of the 80 people there had been there at least once before. Only six or seven were first timers, like me, and he remembered our names (along with many of the others). His main function seemed to be to call out names to introduce people to each other so that no one was ever out of it for a second.
Amid a confection of West Europeans, East Europeans, Americans, Asians and Australians, I spoke with a Dutchman who was a cartoonist for the monthly French newspaper Le Monde, a beautiful lady from Norway who painted portraits and a man from Arizona who drove a truck.
It defied an exact definition- more a cook-up than a gourmet soiree, the kind of rendezvous where 80 plates of soup are followed by 80 plates of rice and chicken and 80 more of banana cake, plus all the wine and beer you could drink.
Among Czechs en route to Spain, Swiss returning from England and expatriate Germans living in Paris, you sense that you are into something bigger and longer lasting than yourself, a participant in making some kind of statement about things.
Jim Haynes served his U.S. military service in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has never returned to the U.S. [to live.] He has founded a successful theater company at the Edinburgh Festival, run a bookshop, directed films and fallen in love with Paris because, he says, it is a crossroads where people continually pass through and he needs this flow. "It is like oxygen for me."
You, too, could meet this generous, sociable, free spirit and his guests some Sunday evening. All you do is call Paris (011-33-1-43-27-17-67) before Friday.
©The Chicago Tribune, 2002
2002 The Chicago Tribune : Sunday dinner in Paris, just call Jim