My Dinner with Jim

The NYT ran a nice profile of Jim Haynes, who died last week at the age of 87, back in 2012. Five years earlier, I wrote this profile for Cornichon.org:

On the phone, Jim Haynes invites me to come for dinner on Sunday, something he’s been saying to visitors for decades. By now, well over 100,000 people–most of them total strangers–have accepted his invitation. mostly, but not exclusively, American visitors. [Another 25,000 have been added over the past five years.]

In a not-particularly-fashionable neighborhood in the southeast quadrant of Paris, a high metal gate swings open. You walk into a courtyard and enter a high-ceilinged artist’s studio. Jim is on a stool next to the stove, welcoming new arrivals (or on the phone, talking to strays who got lost). By 9 PM, the apartment is crowded with perhaps 75 or 80 guests.

The three-course menu is unpretentious and tasty: salad, boeuf bourguignon over pasta, ice cream with poached pears. On the landing, you help yourself to decent, bag-in-box wine. And you meet people, you converse. Jim makes sure of that. He calls out names. “Pierre, talk to Julie! Mitch from Cleveland, right? This is Suzanne. She lives in the neighborhood.” He doesn’t refer to his guest list, has it down pat. “Ronald, Seattle, Bruce, Seattle.” Bruce ignores me; he hasn’t come this far to meet neighbors.

A few of the guests are newcomers, some come regularly, others whenever they’re in town. To be sure, some are just cruising, but many are couples. “It’s a nice way to spend a Sunday night in Paris,” says a Belgian expat.

“Ronald, you speak French. Sit over there by the bookcase with Martine and Danielle!” They live in the suburbs, tell me they’ve heard about Jim’s soirées for years, finally decided to see for themselves.

Jim is from Louisiana, a theatrical type (as if you couldn’t guess), clearly enjoys his role as stage-manager. Why does he do it, this whole permanent floating crap game of an international dinner party? A pause, a smile. “Why not?” he answers.

A fine obituary, in The Guardian, is here.

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