|Sunday suppers: If you're in Paris, you're invited|
|by Carol Pucci, Seattle Times travel
The Seattle Times, Friday, April 20, 2007
PARIS It's Sunday night, and in apartments all over the city, people are sitting down to dinner, perhaps with friends, sharing good food, wine and lively conversation.
Wouldn't it be fun to score an invitation? Maybe discover a new neighborhood and see what it's like inside those old buildings with the big wooden doors?
Better yet, why not just invite yourself?
Two American Southerners living in Paris welcome you to do just that.
My watch is running fast, so when I knock on Jim Haynes' door for an 11 a.m. interview on a Saturday, it's really 10:40 a.m., and he's still in his purple bathrobe, pajamas and slippers.
Three young houseguests from Scotland and England lounge on the couch below a poster that reads: "Jim's plan: Stay home and get paid."
One offers to run out for croissants; another jumps in the shower. Haynes puts the kettle on for tea.
At 73, reading glasses pushed down over his nose, mustache in need of a trim, he looks more like a college professor relaxing on his day off than a man preparing to have 60 people over for dinner the next day. But then, he's had a lot of practice.
A Louisiana native retired from a teaching job at the University of Paris, he's been hosting a Sunday dinner for 30 years in his apartment in the Left Bank neighborhood of Alésia for anyone who wants to come.
Artists, musicians, actors, teachers and friends of friends from around the world, most of whom have never met, mingle elbow-to-elbow over a stand-up meal in a combination kitchen/studio atelier no bigger than some living rooms.
All anyone has to do is go to his Web site and click on "Come to Sunday Dinner!" then call or e-mail him for a reservation. Short notice is OK. The first 50 are welcome, often more. Haynes asks for a 25-euro ($33.75) donation. "Or," he says, "they can pay what they can afford."
His cellphone rings as we sit down to talk. Six cans of chestnut cream and two boxes of instant mashed potatoes sit on the kitchen counter.
"Hi, Roseanne? ... Four people? OK. What are their names? Haynes scribbles "Laura from Romania" on a scrap of paper. The phone rings again.
"Hello. ... Where are your friends from? Two from Munich. OK. You know the door code. Ciao."
Jim Haynes, who has been throwing Sunday dinner parties in Paris for three decades, greets a visitor.
When I arrive back at Haynes' house for dinner Sunday, he's traded his purple bathrobe for a checkered apron.
His front door opens onto the kitchen from a hallway on the first floor of a century-old building meant to house studios for sculptors.
"Gamay or merlot?" he asks, going into the foyer to fill a glass from a box of red wine. The space by the stairwell doubles as a bar on Sundays, and no, the neighbors don't mind. Madame Peaupert, in her 80s, sometimes comes over to help chop onions or garlic.
Haynes pulls a dozen baguettes from a bag and asks for help slicing. He'll make chicken or fish for 80 in a pinch, but he recruits friends to cook most of the time. Volunteering tonight is his British friend Antonia Hoogewerf.
Fifteen bags of salad greens and three bags of pine nuts sit on the kitchen table. A vat of green beans boils on the stove. Four seafood pies warm in the oven. A chocolate and chestnut cream dessert chills in the fridge. Most furniture has been shoved aside. Someone puts the coat rack in the bathtub to make extra room.
As the first of the expected 64 guests start arriving around 8 p.m., Haynes sits down on a stool and checks names off a list with a pink magic marker.
No one has name tags, so he shouts out introductions.
"Peter, meet Carol!" I turn and talk with Peter Walford, from Los Angeles. Haynes was a friend of his father's, and he's known him since he was 17.
"He's very good at getting people to relax," he says. Walford works for a cable-television company in Amsterdam and comes to the dinner whenever he's in Paris.
"Put your stuff down and start talking," Haynes calls to no one in particular.
This is a man who packs much into life. He was stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he founded an alternative theater company and paperback bookshop. Later, he moved to London. In the 1960s, he helped start a newspaper in Amsterdam dedicated to sexual freedom and traveled to Poland, Hungry and Romania to write travel books.
The dinners began after he settled in Paris 35 years ago to teach courses in media studies and sexual politics. A houseguest offered to cook for Haynes' friends to repay him for his hospitality. Twenty-five came. "It was the best meal of my life," he says, and the soirées became a regular event.
Helpers serve buffet-style, starting with the salad, then the main course and dessert. By the time the evening winds down around 11 p.m., I've met a Japanese medical researcher working in Paris, a French woman who owns vineyards in Burgundy, a Grammy nominee from California with spiked hair and white leather boots and a Polish woman in a stunning fur hat.
Haynes estimates he's hosted more than 100,000 people over the years, most of whom he never met until they knocked on his door.
"The number of marriages, love affairs, friendships, apartments that have come out of these dinners ... I can't count them."
Married once, he lives alone, but only technically. Rarely is he without a houseguest or two. He travels and writes, but connecting people is what he does best and seems to enjoy most.
"That's what he does," says his friend Antonia. "That's the essence of Jim."
Seattle Times travel writer
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2007, The Seattle Times