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Break bread, not your budget

by Athena Tsavliris, Weekend Post,
National Post, Friday, February 20, 2009

Back in the 1980s, Jim Haynes edited a guidebook that contained no hotels, no restaurants, no museums, monuments, maps, nor any of the usual tourism trappings. It was filled with about 1,000 brief biographies of people, in nine Eastern European countries and Russia, who would be prepared to welcome visitors to their countries. He called them people-to-people guides.

"There are two ways of travelling," says Haynes, who is based in Paris. "One is to be a tourist where you go to see things and the other is to be a traveller where you participate in the daily life of locals. I'm a strong advocate of the latter."

Indeed, he is. Every Sunday for the past 30 years, he has brought friends and strangers - up to 60 people, more if the weather is good and there's room to tumble out into the garden - from every corner of the globe for dinner at his atelier, a former sculpting studio in the 14th arrondissement. No wonder he has been called "the godfather of social networking."



Photograph©Jesper Haynes, 2009

Photograph©Jesper Haynes, 2009

Jim Haynes at one of his Paris gatherings. Yoko Ono, ChloŽ Sevigny,
Germaine Greer and travellers of all nationalities have passed through his famous dining room.


The dinners started off small, catering mainly to Paris locals. The Internet and international press have changed that, and today the dinners are legendary. People visiting Paris simply call or email in advance. Each Sunday features a different cook. Recently, an American neighbour made lasagna and tiramisu and an Irishman served. "Seamus was passing through Paris for three days on his way to Tokyo 30-something years ago and he never left," Haynes says. "He's great. He stretches the food and always makes sure people get extra helpings."

Amanda Morrow, an Australian journalist doing a stint in Paris, met Haynes at a comedy club last March on her second night in the city and has attended almost every dinner since. "If you don't feel comfortable eating standing up sandwiched in amongst total strangers, then it's not for you," Morrow warns. The etiquette is slightly looser than at a normal party, says Morrow, with people constantly interrupting to join in on or add something to your conversation.

The crowd is on the bohemian side, with smatterings of artists, poets, musicians, writers and dancers. Chloë Sevigny, Yoko Ono and Germaine Greer have all passed through his dinner parties.

"The rhythm changes every week depending on the crowd," Morrow says. "Once this busload of American golden-oldie types turned up and joined the mix. They loved it."

Over the past 10 months, Morrow says she has met people from Tehran, Moscow and Copenhagen. There was the 18-year-old American student busking her way around the Paris Métro; the group of artists who lived in a bar in Edinburgh and were exploring the city; Oleg, the charming Russian fashion photographer with the enormous smile; and Jack, the academic, who divides his time between Paris and Berkeley, Calif.

"It's very much a transient crowd, and with that comes the freedom to say whatever you think without worrying that you're going to see that person again," Morrow says. "But on the other hand, often you'll meet like-minded people whose friendship you'll pursue."


After all, as Haynes says, it's one thing to visit the monuments and bistros of Paris and quite another to share moules with a room full of Parisians in a beautiful converted artist's atelier in the heart of the city. "Every time I say maybe I should stop this, this is too much, that particular Sunday turns out to be the best one of all time. Fabulous people come and the food is delicious and I think to myself, ‘How can I ever stop these things?' "


read the article in the National Post


article by Athena Tsavliris © National Post, Toronto, 2009



Athena Tsavliris : Break bread, not your budget

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