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.
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!" 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.
Martine and Danielle, who live in the suburbs, tell me they've heard about Jim's soirées for years, finally decided to see for themselves. And yeah, by the end of the evening, they've both given me their cellphone numbers.
To reserve a dinner spot, call Jim directly at 01-43-27-17-67 in Paris, or visit his website, jim-haynes.com. To see if he's available to spend a couple of weekdays with visitors, contact InTouchTravel.com
Final note: Carol Pucci of the Seattle Times had a terrific feature about how to meet Parisians earlier this month; Jim's dinners are supposed to be in next Sunday's paper.