Meeting strangers is all part of travel’s appeal. Whether it’s a casual conversation on a plane or a lifetime bond, who we meet is often more important than where we go. GoNOMAD’s Ann Banks has found the ultimate introduction with A Dinner Party Tradition in Paris.
Before there was social networking, there was Jim Haynes. Haynes doesn’t have a shy bone in his body, though he has the greatest compassion for those of us who do. Everyone in the world wants to meet everyone else in the world, he believes, “as long as they are tenderly introduced.”
Haynes has dedicated his life to making such tender introductions, first in his career as an international avant garde arts impresario and for the last three decades at the legendary Sunday night dinners he holds in his Paris atelier in the 14th arrondissement. Everyone is invited, including you, should you be one of the first 70 to 100 people who call or email to reserve a place. (There is no formal charge, but a donation of 25E is suggested to cover the cost of the three-course meal, including wine and beer.)
A Louisiana-born American expatriate, Haynes fell into extreme hosting in 1978 when a houseguest offered to cook dinner for a group of Jim’s friends. The event grew, first by word of mouth and then following numerous media reports, including Haynes’s own description of the dinners on NPR’s“This I Believe” series.
“If I had my way,” he said in that broadcast, “I would introduce everyone in the world to each other.” He is trying. Over the years more than 130,000 people have made their way on Sunday night to the former sculpture studio at 83 rue de la Tombe Issoire. Yoko Ono dropped in once, as did Germaine Greer.
I learned of Jim Haynes’s 33-year dinner party on one of the many English-language blogs about life in Paris. Intrigued, I emailed to ask if there might be room for me on a Sunday I planned to be in the city. Jim responded with a friendly note saying the guest list was full but that if the weather was fine the party could spill out into the garden and there would be room to squeeze me in. Fortunately the predicted rain never arrived, so Sunday afternoon Jim emailed me directions and the entry code to the front gate.
I’m as nervous as the next person about walking into a room full of strangers but Jim greeted me so warmly that I felt as if I had at least one friend at the party. Although things were already in full swing when I arrived, he was easy to spot, in his signature party attire of blue-and-white checked butcher’s apron. His abundant white mustache invites comparisons to Mark Twain and his rectangular half-glasses would look right at home on Santa Claus.
From his perch on a kitchen stool in the middle of the room, Haynes lobs introductions right and left. Each week he makes a point of remembering the names of everyone on the guest list, where they’re from and what they do. “Fortunately I have an excellent memory,” he says.