Sometimes the random parts of your life all come together in one delightful mess. In three hours, bits and pieces of my life (being raised by well read hippies who also happen to attend NYU, being driven around in a succession of VW bugs as a kid, living in unusual places-like Guam, life as a high school guidance counselor, a Czech grandmother, and my love of traveling, to name a few) happily collided in a Paris garden and the studio belonging to Jim Haynes.
Jim is the Paris supper club guy. Originally from New Orleans, he eventually found himself in Paris opening his home, and then his studio every Sunday night to the first 30-60 people that contact him. He doesn't care who you are or where you from. A donation is suggested. That's it. He gives you the very specific address (39 steps was one directive) and his gate code and you're in. The kids took one look at him and decided he reminded them of their grandfather.
Jim may well be the original hippie but one who studied Russian, attended a military high school, and later enlisted in the Air Force. It didn't surprise me at all that he drove a Volkswagen back in the day. His Sunday night suppers may have started by accident- something about a ballerina who needed a place to live and wound up living at Jim's. In exchange, she cooked dinner a couple of nights a week for whomever strolled in. Eventually, she left and Sunday came. Dinner time. He made dinner anyway and the supper club was born. He has hosted well over 100,000 people for dinners over the last 30 years.
An artist, an author, teacher, a non-conformist; he has left a long and distinguished artistic trail behind him...the first paperback book store in Edinburgh, theater companies, Arts Labs, Writer's Conferences, etc., etc. He has met, mingled, and befriended all sorts of people; John and Yoko Ono, Henry Miller, Chloe Sevigny, and us.
So, in an old house in Paris behind a big green gate...people spill out into the garden drinking boxed wine and balancing plates on their knees. Fairy lights in the trees and tea lights on steps were the only lights in the garden. The menu is a surprise each week. A rotating bunch of chef volunteers cook whatever they want but that night was pulled pork, black beans, spinach, and rice. Orange and red onion salad was served in those wooden bowls from the seventies, then washed and used for a strawberries and cream dessert with a gingerbread cookie. But it's not about the food. I think the food is incidental and not why people come.
They come because they can. Some like to come for dinner fairly often. Some once every couple of years and some only once. He has one rule: You are not allowed to talk to the people you came with. He looked right at Caroline as he explained that. She was okay with that and off she went- the youngest in the group.
In the dinner mix, I talked to an architect from San Diego who was visiting France with her husband and artist sister. The architect and I had a long talk about the pressures of being a working mom and it turns out her best friend is also a high school guidance counselor. Then I had my salad while sitting next to a woman who owns a film studio in Prague. Her advice on raising kids? Let them have their secret lives. Parents shouldn't know everything. That was how her father raised her (after he was raised with grandparents living in the same house when he was a teenager who knew far too much as far as he was concerned).
Then an older gentleman made small talk with me about my daughter Lauren and how delightful she was. He really liked her. I wandered away and found Lauren and Sam in a group of teens. Facebook details being exchanged with sisters from Germany. Back in the studio, I waited in line for my dinner behind a man who started a chamber orchestra in Paris because he was fed up with the philosophy behind how music was taught and performed in the States. He prefers the French approach but it's sucking up all his time. He is still single and needs to 'do something about that'.
Then a sweet man sat next to me. He was probably 85; born in Bordeaux and raised outside the city there but Paris has been his home for many, many years. We chatted about his kids who are both artists and his travels all over the world. He comes fairly often. He left shortly after dinner but not before proposing to my friend, Lisa. She declined. Her husband should be proud. But she can check, 'marriage proposal in Paris' off her bucket list. Rog overhearing the marriage proposal wandered over.
I went into the garden and sat on the steps next to a man from England and a woman from Glasgow. I had plopped myself in the middle of the cast and crew from Casablanca who were there for dinner. The lighting guy and I talked about the bonding the cast and crew go through as they get ready for a production. Reminded me of being an expat and I thought of my buddies in Zug. I wished we had time to go see the show.
I did break my promise not to talk to the ones I came with when I briefly misplaced Caroline. "Have you seen her?" I asked Doug. He looked alarmed and we both began to hunt. She was tired and had pulled Doug's leather jacket and her own off a hook, found a quiet bench in a garden a few doors down, and gone to sleep.
Doug picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. I said my goodbyes. Gave Jim an apron and bought a few of his books; one a book on throwing parties and the other a yearly account of his life.
His father's advice to him in 1944?
"When you do something nice for someone, forget it immediately. When someone does something nice for you, never forget it." Sounds good to me. I won't forget.