Dinner with Jim Haynes

haynesbook.jpgA couple of nights before we left for Paris my sister came to my house for dinner and told me she heard a story on NPR about this man in Paris that invites guests for dinner every Sunday evening at his house. “Do you want to go, sounds interesting, don’t you think?” This did sound interesting, it could be very interesting or not, but either way it surely would be an experience. Jim requested that anyone that wants to come to his house send him an e-mail and tell something about yourself, pressure was on to say something short and creative to get his attention. Waking up in the morning I opened up my e-mail and there was a response from Jim. He said that there was a waiting list for the Sunday night dinner which he added us to and we should call him at noon on Sunday to see if anyone had cancel making room for us. He also invited us for a glass of wine sometime during the week if we had time. I guess the e-mail sparked his interest.

I called exactly at noon on Sunday, Jim answered and said we were on, and he looked forward to meeting us at 8. After riding 3 different lines on the Paris Metro we arrive following his directions, taking a left and going 30 steps, then a right 11 steps, well, you get the idea, we arrived at the large green gates. He had given us the code to punch in which we did and the the gates opened to a long, very dark, crushed stone walkway. We continued with our directions in hand illuminated with our cell phone, we found his door. We were early, miscalculating how long the trip would take but decided that he probably could use some help, there were 60 people coming.

We knocked on the door and Jim himself answered the door, we introduced ourselves, “oh, the sisters from Maine are here” he said to the cook at the stove and two of his friends. The apartment was a large quintessential "Parisian art studio", the front wall was all glass to let in lots of eastern light, the place had a commercial stove, hood and large glass refrigerator, the walls were covered with photos that looked like they were taken by Man Ray, black and white, some erotic, some very old, all lovely. We asked if there was anything that we could do to help, he declined and said just have a seat, get a glass of wine, we are all set. At that point I had not idea how the evening would go but so far it wasn’t all that interesting.

haynes3.jpgI pushed myself to make conversation and be upbeat, Jim told me to go hang up my coat, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to stay never mind part with my coat, It is easier to slip away when you have your coat near. All right, I’ll hang up my coat....A man by the name of David came and started talking to us, he was a photographer from NYC and Paris, he showed us his 3 books, one was pictures of the pavement of NYC, okay, I was intrigued. And then it started, one person after another was the most interesting person that I had met in a long time but here was a roomful of the most exciting, unique, lovely people that I have had the opportunity to meet. The evening felt like Hemingway’s Paris in the 1920’s. Lots of food, great conversations, diverse guests, great politics, old hippies/bohemians, books everywhere, and 40 year old dust on the shelves. Ah, the Paris that I haven’t seen since the 60’s, I found it! What an evening!

I am sure that you all want to know about the dinner, I mean the food. The cook changes every week, whom ever wanders into Jim’s life gets invited to cook. That Sunday a wild man from Alabama that had a literary magazine in Scotland was the one that made the Gumbo, someone else made the rice and vegetable and Jim made a chopped beet, corn, black bean salad.  I made a point to find out who made the Gumbo and went to have a conversation with him, he was very tall, lean, 28ish in a perfectly groomed black suit, with the most precious, delicate, elegant Southern accent. He talked about how he struggled to make Gumbo for 60, remembering each step that his Grandmother taught him, trying to figure out just how much 60 servings looked like. Marvin said "it's a big pot full!"

haynespg.jpgThere was a real mix of people, a hypnotist from California, a Burgundy vineyard owner that got it in a divorce settlement, a women that sold apartments in Paris to Americans, writers, artists, students, lawyers, out of work movie producers, and my sister and me! Jim asks everyone to put 25 euros in an envelope with your card or your name on the outside and he crosses you off the list and he also asks that you fill out a form with your name, the date of the dinner and how he can get in touch with you in the future. People ate and drank and mingled, the rooms was packed and impossible to move around at all. Dinner lasts until 11 but the crowd started thinning out rather quickly by 10, the noise level was much more manageable again.

Jim came and sat with me for the last hour and we just talked about stuff. He told me stories about the Sunday night dinners that he has hosted for the last 33 years, feeding over 110,000 guests, he told me about his trips around the world on freight ships, he told me about the Theater that he started in Scotland, we talked about his many books, we talked well past 11. He was just delightful and gentle with the nicest smile and laugh. The food and times that evening took me back to the 60’s when my sister and I bought a VW microbus with 6 other friends and drove from Italy to Morocco, watching all the great food around us but eating what looked like the Gumbo every night cooked over a gas camping stove with overcooked vegetables olive green on our plates but you know it wasn’t about the food it was about the great stimulating conversations that garnished the plates, then and this past Sunday night. When we parted we said to Jim “we’ll see you next year and can we do the cooking?” He winked and smiled......


Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot.

The Green Spot
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