In Paris, we stumbled upon an event hosted by Jim Haynes—his weekly Sunday dinners. On his website Jim talks about introducing people from around the world; he boasts of his memory and the ability to introduce each person “effortlessly”. Perhaps 50 or 60 people attended the dinner on the evening we dined at Jim’s apartment—an atelier in south part of the city which served as Matisse’s last studio in Paris.
I heard about the event from my writing workshop and signed up immediately by simply sending Jim an email with my short bio. If I’m honest, I suppose I hoped to meet interesting people and that, by extension, there was an implication that I myself am interesting. A group of young women from my writing class also attended. We left with two very different dinner experiences.
The next week in writing class, they told stories of creepy older men—and one in particular—who stalked them around the party all evening. I met the most egregious stalker briefly, but he didn’t make eye contact—much less any advances. After all, I was his age. This type of man pursues younger, attractive women (thank goodness). While their experience was a bit frightening, or certainly off-putting, my own was to meet a number of nice people, largely Americans, and chat over dinner.
I summarized the event for our non-fiction teacher as “a Gatsby style affair but with boxed wine.” He challenged me to write about the dinner for one of my class submissions and to use that description. This dinner became the basis for my fictional story submission where I supposed a life for the creepy man. (In my piece, he was a writer past his career peak and with a sad childhood, so I ended up feeling badly for him.)
The dinner broke into a few predictable groupings: intellectuals (self identified), curmudgeons (largely Jim and his cronies), nouveau-riche (evident from their business cards), and normal people. Within ‘normal people’ were this one man who sought out writing students with “breezy good looks” (to quote my fictional account) and a bunch of interesting conversationalists who more than made up for him—at least for me.
Pat and I mingled separately most of the evening. As I recounted the dinner to him, I mentioned I had met the creep, but he didn’t give me a second look and I went about my evening. As an after thought, I added, “I love being old. To be able to enjoy a party completely unencumbered.”
And for the first time in my life, I actually meant this. All month, I played the role of wise mother-figure to a group of late 20-year-old women who broke into smaller groups, couldn’t always get along, and fought all the personal insecurities for some reason inherent in being an attractive, younger woman. We drank coffee and went to lunch, and I cheered them on. I was both the oldest student and a woman, so bottom line, I threatened no one and any expectations of my performance were set quite low. (Again, score one for me.)
As for Jim, he sat on his bench all evening, didn’t remember my husband or me, and never introduced us to anyone. He collected our 60 euro and pointed us to the boxed wine. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t recommend the dinners, just go realizing the dinners are apparently his livelihood. At some point in the night, one of the curmudgeons handed me a list of the books and videos I could buy from Jim—complete with pricing. This list dispelled any lingering hopes I had that this dinner was not, in fact, a business (and a pretty lucrative cash business at that).
The people you will meet are likely no different than the person who drank coffee next to you that same morning. Perhaps engage some random people in a conversation and save the travel time and money required to attend Jim’s dinner. Or go with the appropriate expectations in place.
Today I read a personal essay from Roger Angell of the New Yorker. It summarizes aging better than I ever could. In it, he asserts that people stop listening to women around the age of 50. I worked in technology. In that space, they stop listening to either gender at around the age of 40 (mildly ironic that the people no longer listening are men in their 50s). But once you embrace the freedom of anonymity, it’s not a bad thing. Actually, it’s a good thing. Yes, I believe it’s a very good thing.
Our update: We are back in the US spending four days in Philadelphia before flying to San Francisco for a month on August 5th. Then, we will return to the east coast, and I will join my girlfriend and learn to surf in Wilmington, North Carolina—assuming the sharks behave (and I garner the nerve to come onto the beach in my wet suit).
Categories: A year in Paris