If you’d rather go to a party than the Louvre, Jim Haynes’ Left Bank atelier is the place for you. I know. I’ve been to his parties dozens of times.
He’s been giving dinners in Paris every Sunday for more than 35 years. Why? A Louisianan, tall, with craggy features, he likes people and wants them to know each other. He’s found a way to guarantee that there will always be new faces for friends and for himself.
Getting invited to a party is simple: You go to his website, jim-haynes.com, and send him a message with your email, names of your guests and the date of the Sunday you want to attend. He’ll answer by email with directions and the door code (which changes frequently). Or you can write ahead: Jim Haynes, Atelier A-2, 83 rue de la Tombe Issoire, 75014 Paris.
The cost? Whatever you wish, but 30 euros is suggested. For that, you get wine or juice, a starter soup or fresh green salad, a main dish (chicken pot pie when I was last there), French bread and a dessert. (We had cherry cobbler.) No coffee. “That’s too complicated. There could be 50 to 60 people,” Jim says.
I heard about Jim’s parties about 15 years ago when I visited the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, a Left Bank hangout where Americans and British can find other English speakers to talk to. I went to one of the Sunday teas that the late bookstore owner George Whitman gave upstairs in his private library. Jim was there, having a hasty cup of tea before going home to his atelier to prepare for the party later that evening.
“Dinner’s at 8. Everybody’s welcome,” he announced. However, these days it’s become so popular he wants reservations.
Several of us decided to go that night. I’ve discovered that with Jim’s parties and the teas and Monday poetry readings that still exist at Shakespeare and Company, it’s difficult to get lonely in Paris.
Though born in Louisiana, Jim has lived in Edinburgh, London and Amsterdam. He is a publisher/writer and retired professor from the University of Paris VIII, where he taught experimental classes such as “media studies” and “sexual politics” for 29 years.
He has edited People to People travel guides to 10 Eastern European countries and Russia. His introduction to the Poland book states that the publishers “wish to establish a warm relationship between travellers and the local population that will be based upon mutual passions and common interests – be it bridge, tennis, ballet or gardening.”
They give lists of locals with their interests and languages who would like to meet travelers. I sent a copy about Bulgaria to my son, who was working there, and wish I’d had one myself when I was visiting. Jim’s series of travel guides was awarded a prize from the Institute of Social Inventions in London.
He loves Paris and has lived in his atelier for more than 36 years. The place is small, with a kitchen, opening onto a sitting room. There are three colorful couches, for sitting with a plate on your lap, or maybe if you are a friend of a friend, for sleeping on later. The walls have posters and photos of artists and writers who’ve been to some of these dinners.
You’ll probably feel a great change of mood when you smell the evening meal – spaghetti sauce or roast chicken with garlic, vegetable soup simmering in a huge tureen.
You can hang your jacket on the portable coat rack in the back and, past many bookshelves, find a small bathroom to wash up before dinner.
You pour your own drink. There is bottled or boxed wine, sparkling water and fruit juices on wide shelves on the right side of the atelier.
On a warm evening, the party spills out onto the front porch and down four steps into the lush garden. There is a brick path to the neighbors’ houses, all of whom are invited. Nevertheless, Jim has promised them to end the party by 11.
After the chef fills you a plate, you select your bread and plastic knife and fork, and look for a place to settle. If you’re going outside in mild weather, you can stand or sit on a large rock or a folding chair brought out for the evening. There are rose bushes, a cherry tree that produces large white flowers and succulent cherries, and some evenings a moon in the distance.
Jim usually has a friend do the cooking. He leans his long frame back in a chair by the stove, welcoming everybody and introducing them in a hearty voice, collecting discreet envelopes and checking people’s names off a typed list.
He remembers names from the beginning, “Bev West, this is Pierre de Lansallaut; Pierre, Angela Sollini, Angela ...” If you walk by a second time, he introduces you again to whoever happens to be standing in the dinner line. No matter what your language, you find yourself talking soon.
At my first party, I met a couple who became my very close friends, the late Beat poet Ted Joans and his fiancée, Laura Corsiglia, an artist in her own right. Ted gave poetry readings at Shakespeare and also had a “salon” at a café, Le Rouquet, at St. Germain des Pres, about a block from the more expensive Deux Magots. He reserved two or three tables at Le Rouquet every afternoon between 4 and 6 and, in true salon fashion, kept the conversations lively.
Jim has printed some of Ted’s books through his publishing house. In fact, he says, that’s how Handshake Editions got started. Its first book, Duckbutter Poems, by Ted Joans, was published in 1980 because Ted had been invited to read at UNESCO and had to have a book of poetry to sell after the reading.
Another notable who used to attend Jim’s dinners was poet Allen Ginsberg.
A couple I know met at one of Jim’s parties. Both were just passing through Paris. Jim introduced them, of course, and after talking and dining under the cherry tree, they became engaged. Now, they’re married and live in Seattle.
Except for traveling, Jim’s needs are simple. So euros from the dinners are likely to go to friends in Eastern Europe and to his somewhat eccentric publishing ventures.
And, of course, there’s a party tonight.
Beverly Lehman West is a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter and freelance travel writer who lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash. She is writing a travel memoir called Cold Water Garret & A Warm Boy’s Hand – Finding My Way Back to 1950s Paris. firstname.lastname@example.org.