This is an invitation to my home.
If you are in France and would like to come visit, please let me know a week or two before you arrive (by email). Do not write me months in advance, I am not someone who plans ahead.
I will gladly welcome you with a glass of wine in the garden, or a cup tea in the kitchen, or a hot chocolate in the late afternoon, or all three in you are a true gourmand.
No need to bring anything except a smile and conversation. Of course, if you really want to bring something, I love maple syrup have never said no to that.
And if you love the brocante... maybe we can go together.
Or simply hang out with a glass of something, hear each other's tales.
I have met hundreds of people through blogging. Some of you I have never met but feel I know you... really know you. It is such a blessing. Diogenes and Shelley remember you are coming to visit, and my fingers are crossed to one day meet Jill, Martina and YOU!
I am seriously thinking of doing tours... I know I said I never would... but I am thinking about doing tours of the France I love... and brocanting would have to be part of it. Of course I would tie your hands behind so I could have first dibs.
Blogging has brought me memorable experiences, and I am at a point where I want to do something more... ideas are simmering.
Lately, I have thought about Jim Haynes, who for the last thirty years has hosted a weekly dinner at his place in Paris, for anyone who would like to come. I think I might copy his idea, it would be a wonderful way to meet people. And I love to cook for a party.
Guests have been flooding to American-born Jim's converted artist's studio in the 14th arrondissement for more than 30 years. Every Sunday evening, he operates an open-house policy, cooking dinner for anyone who cares to drop by. All you have to do is call or send an email. You don't need to have any mutual contacts; those passing through for a night are as welcome as old friends. Most startling of all - in these credit crunched times - is that he doesn't charge but simply asks guests to leave a donation in an envelope (€25 suggested).
I arrive expecting an informal dinner party, with a small group seated around a table, but instead I find the place packed with more than 70 attendees. "I'm so glad you made it," says Jim, with genuine enthusiasm, after I make my way through the crowds to introduce myself. "You needn't have brought anything," he adds, eyeing the bottle of wine in my hand.
I discover teetotal Jim, 75, always provides not just food at his weekly gatherings, but also all the drinks - boxed wine, bottled beer and soft drinks. Profits from donations go to various artistic and social projects.
Tonight's Indian theme sees mountains of chicken curry, dhal, raita and rice being dished out of huge vats, and it's surprisingly good considering the numbers they're catering for. Each week, Jim invites a guest chef, and their success has even inspired a cookbook on group catering, Throw a Great Party: Inspired by Evenings in Paris with Jim Haynes (iUniverse, £9).
Guests step up to the hob to be served, then find a place to perch - either on one of the chairs laid out in the garden or on a sofa underneath walls crowded with souvenirs and photos. I'm amazed by how approachable everyone is, whether they're a first-timer, like me, or one of the core of regulars. Here "working the room" involves no actual work, it seems to happen effortlessly.
Guests' ages range from 20 to 80. I meet artists and scientists, locals and expats. Antonia, a British expat and tonight's guest chef, introduces me to a young filmmaker from Guadeloupe; an American pianist invites me to one of his recitals; and a local called Michael insists that next time I visit I attend his own open-house dinners, held every Saturday evening near Notre Dame (see meetup.com/TalkTime). Everyone here seems to have a story to tell. But could any surpass Jim's?
Born in Louisiana, he spent his teens in Venezuela, followed by long stints in Edinburgh, London and Amsterdam before finally settling in Paris. I discovered he started an experimental theatre in Edinburgh, co-founded a magazine celebrating sexual freedom in 1960s Amsterdam, and has been called the "godfather of social networking" following his 1980s series of self-published People-to-People guides, which listed addresses of local people willing to help or host travellers. It seems Jim was setting the hospitality-tourism trend 20 years before the birth of CouchSurfing.
With all this in mind, I expected some bolshie extrovert, holding court in the centre of the room. But Jim is the opposite: softly spoken and unassuming, possessing an interesting mix of unshockable worldliness and an appreciation of the simple things in life. ("I've just had a lovely lemon tart," he writes in an email to me before we meet.)
"These nights began by accident," he tells me later, as guests begin to disperse (a typical Sunday night dinner runs from 8pm sharp until 11pm). In the mid 70s, a young American dancer knocked on his door and nervously explained that she had just arrived in the city. A friend had suggested Jim as a good person for any newcomer to know. It was quite an understatement. Jim immediately offered his spare room, and she offered to return the favour by cooking for him and his friends every week. Before long, these nights became legendary. An estimated 120,000 have dined chez Jim over the years, sparking countless friendships and even weddings. He tells me how he once introduced female twins from Suriname to two brothers from Edinburgh, and both sets ended up marrying. "Sunday dinners: an ongoing story" reads his website. Fancy being a part of it? Just drop him a line. Everyone's welcome.
The bug is in my bonnet crawling, laughing, wandering between ear to ear, weaving between my colored roots, something is brewing.
This new year finds me toying with bartering too... exchanging ideas, work, travel... Let's just say I am in a mood for expansion.
Let it begin. I might not want to be as big as Jim Haynes, but his welcoming others from near and far has stirred something in me. If you are in the area I hope you will contact me, let's start with a drink and see were this leads.
My email is on top of my blog, on the right hand corner.
Until then I am glad I know you here encouraging me to grow.