Jim Haynes was a citizen of the world who for decades was THE American in Paris, better known than any Ambassador or writer or entertainer because for more than thirty years he ran the most friendly and welcoming institution in the city. Every Sunday evening he threw a dinner party for all comers, old friends and strangers, from every nationality under the sun. You never knew what you might eat nor whom you might meet, what you might talk about or whether there would be music. The Guinness Book of Records reckoned that he’d had more dinner guests than anyone else in history, some 50000 people who had dined chez Jim. It was always different, always exciting and all held together by the amiable, ever-welcoming presence of this big, untidy American with the soup-strainer moustache, his gentle hugs and his enormous gift for friendship.
We first met in London at the Arts Lab he founded where, as he liked to say, he introduced Yoko Ono to John Lennon, where you might find David Bowie rehearsing or the Pink Floyd working on a new song or the next issue of IT, the International Times, being planned and laid out. For a young student visiting from Oxford, Jim’s Arts Lab was a cornucopia of possibilities.
We kept on meeting over the next fifty years in Paris, usually at his place in rue de la Tombe Issoire, and in various theatres, restaurants, bookshops in Edinburgh and Amsterdam. He came to stay with us in Moscow when I was based there as The Guardian’s correspondent in the Gorbachev era, took us to dinner at Yevtushenko’s dacha (because wherever he found himself Jim always knew somebody). Long before I met Julia, who was to become my wife, she had got to know Jim through Studs Terkel, and was then conscripted to help in the quixotic 1968 Presidential bid of Dick Gregory that Jim helped to run from the unlikely political base of the Playboy Club in London. Just as I got to know his son, Jesper and his wife and saw Jim delight in the presence of his new grand-daighter, Jim got to know our daughters as they grew up, followed their careers, and for them, as for everybody else, there was always a bed or a couch or a mattress on the floor and the use of what had to be the most overused shower in Paris.
Jim was always doing something, writing books or publishing them, helping to get plays performed in theatres and clubs, making films and videos, organizing film festivals and poetry readings. He was a born impresario who never cared about money nor about himself, only about fostering creativity and human connections wherever he found them. He was, in his all-embracing way, the last host in the great tradition of the Parisian salon.
Above all, Jim had been blessed from birth with the gift of friendship. And the friends of Jim were everywhere, folk singers and politicians, rock stars and Russian refugees, writers and lawyers, Polish writers and Turkish film-makers, Irish bards and Indian poets, Peruvian musicians and Cambodian chefs, American publishers and French porn stars. And he shared them all with the rest of us, including everyone in that warm and welcoming embrace. It was, he maintained, the only way to live.