JIM HAYNES

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60 Seconds with Jim Haynes

by Kieran Meeke,
Metro UK, Monday, February 23, 2009

Every week for the past 30 years, Jim Haynes, 75, has hosted a dinner party in his home in Paris. Anyone who calls or e-mails to book – even total strangers – is welcome. A play producer, he helped start the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and The International Times in London.

 

 

Photographby Philippe Gérardin, 2009
Photograph by Philippe Gérardin, 2009

Hi… You’re in London?
I lived in London for five years – one year in George Orwell’s widow Sonya’s house and my rent was serving drinks at her cocktail parties every Friday afternoon. I met Stephen Spender, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, Francis Bacon – half the intellectuals of Europe.

Is that where you got the idea for the dinners?
No, no. I’ve always had house guests since I lived in Edinburgh in the 1950s and 1960s. When I moved to Paris, I had a house guest from LA, a dancer, and her hobby was cooking. She offered to cook a dinner for me and my friends and it was probably the best dinner any of us have ever had – before or since. She was especially good at desserts.

A sort of Babette’s Feast?
Exactly. She offered to do it every week. She didn’t know a soul when she arrived but after a few months she knew half of Paris. She got an apartment, gave dance lessons, got married to a film producer, produced two sons and is still here.

What happened when she left?
Well, we started getting some guest chefs and the rest is hysteria

How many people apply?
By some miracle, only 50 or 60 would call every week. The only time more than that would ask would be in summer when we can move into the garden. We have had as many as 130. When we hit that, I had to start saying no. I like to keep it to around 60 or 70. I’m full every week now – but I hate saying the word ‘no’.

Is it a full-time occupation?
No, it’s still a hobby. All I have to do is find a volunteer cook every week – they just give me a shopping list and the neighbourhood shops deliver it.

How do you pay for it
I ask people to make a contribution – we always break even.

What makes a good guest?
I introduce everyone to everyone and I like people who reach out. Some people will be standing next to a person eating and drinking but not say hello because they are shy.

Had any bad experiences?
Only one, really – a politician’s daughter from the States who crashed the party. She started complaining about something and a friend of mine dumped spaghetti on her.

Started any love stories?
Many, many. Many marriages, many babies. I don’t know about divorces, though. But it’s not just love or a job – all kinds of strange things happen. One man wanted to spend time in a Japanese temple. He met a woman here who arranged for him to stay for six months with her brother, who was a head monk in Kyoto.

What’s the most popular meal?
There’s three: curries, boeuf bourguignon and Italian pasta. It all has to be fork food because it’s a buffet and you eat anywhere you can find a spot.

Do the neighbours never complain?
No, my upstairs neighbour, who’s in her eighties, comes and helps chop vegetables.

Do people live up to their national stereotypes?
No. We are all unique – that’s what we have in common. Roughly, between 120,000 and 130,000 people have come to dinner.

Is your idea catching on?
I’d love to see them all over the world. They are starting up – there’s one in Boston, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Barcelona… There was one in New York but the neighbours closed it down. When I was in London in the 1960s, I started the Arts Lab in Drury Lane and now they are all over, so it would be great to see something similar happen.

Are you an unreconstructed hippy?
Yeah! We are free thinkers and ready to take chances.

 
 
read the article in metro.co.uk
 

 

article by Kieran Meeke ©Metro.co.uk, 2009

 

 

Metro.co.uk : 60 Seconds with Jim Haynes

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