Kiki, c’est chic: following in the footsteps of Kiki de Montparnasse

mademoiselle-kikiEverywhere I go, I keep running into Kiki de Montparnasse. I don’t just mean in the Cimitière I pass through every morning. (The tombstone directory’s stuck on my fridge door with a ‘No Kangaroos in Austria’ magnet.) At the Musée du Quai Branly’s sensually exotic exhibition L’Invention des arts primitifs, the eye is instantly drawn to her serene, porcelain face as she reclines next to an African tribal mask (Noire et Blanche). Last week at the Edinburgh Festival she smiled coyly down at me in the Man Ray exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Now I find myself living in her old 1920s haunt of the 15th arrondissement, where she cavorted with Cocteau, sang indecent songs in the nightclubs, posed for Modigliani, Soutine and Foujita, and was photographed by her lover Man Ray as the voluptuous Violin d’Ingres (never before or since this iconic image have a pair of f-holes seemed so erotic). In his Memoirs of Montparnasse, John Glassco perhaps didn’t quite put his finger on what was so alluring about her when he wrote that her magnificent visage had ‘the lineal purity of a stuffed salmon’.

My Montparnasse is a little more placid than the days of les années folles when, according to Kiki, it was a place ‘where what would be a crime elsewhere is just a peccadillo’. As far as I know, so far, I’ve committed no crimes here and inspired no one as muse. But I remain every bit as optimistic as she was about la vie Parisienne: ‘All I need in life is an onion, a bit of bread and a bottle of red wine, and I’ll always find someone to give me that,’ she reflected late in life.

And here she is in her latest guise. Télérama’s Emergence Revue de l’Avant-Garde Créative has chosen as its Project of the Month a new animated short about this larger-than-life femme fatale. Narrated from her 1929 memoirs (banned for decades in the US), Mademoiselle Kiki et les Montparnos is drawn and coloured entirely by hand in charmingly simple 2D (always with what I like to call the Dr Katz wobbly line syndrome) that captures Kiki’s bold yet facile world view. In under 13 minutes, Amélie Harrault’s whimsical style changes at the drop of a chapeau — from graphite to gouaches to collage — allowing us to view Kiki from the perspective of each artist who falls under her spell.

The opening scenes in harsh, scratchy pen and ink are Kiki’s view of herself: born Alice Ernstine Prin, raised in poverty in a lice-ridden house and disliked by her teachers because she was poor, already posing nude for painters at the age of 14, rising above desperately humble origins through grit, free-spirited lust for life and a certain je ne sais quoi.

By the time she was 28, she had been hailed Reine de Montparnasse. So, I’ve got two years, then.

Watch Mademoiselle Kiki et les Montparnos and the Making Of here, fascinating even if you don’t speak French.

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La Tour Est Folle: l’amour, 100% made in France (and hypoallergenic)

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It’s the iconic symbol of l’amour in the most romantic city in the world. And lovers come from far and wide to pop the question atop this monumental phallus.

Now you can take a satisfying piece of Paris home with you, to do with what you will. Half-Peruvian Paris-based artist Sébastien Lecca has released La Tour Est Folle (a pun on ‘La Tour Eiffel’): a functional rubber objet d’art in the shape of the world-famous love totem, standing proud at 26cm from base to tip (the real thing is 324m high) and available in five colours, of which ‘le fushia explosif et brillant’ is proving most popular.

Unlike most souvenirs you might pick up in Paris, it’s 100% made in France — right down to the packaging — so it’s stimulating the French economy in a big way.

Interview

You can see Lecca’s whimsical chalk drawings of foetuses all over the streets of Paris. I followed the trail to his cramped, creaky corner of the famous artists’ squat at 59 Rue Rivoli, a carnival fun-house acid trip of 30 diverse artists working together in a share-house heaving with colour and creativity. It’s open for public drop-ins so you can see the results splattered all over the floors, walls and façade of this grand old six-storey edifice. Here, Lecca insisted I take one of his creations (‘de la couleur de votre choix!’) and cheerfully chatted with me about life, the universe and everything — but mainly about dildos — for a good 30 minutes while bemused visitors wandered in and out.

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ML: When I look at La Tour Est Folle, it seems like the most obvious thing in the world to have a sex toy in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. How come no one’s done it before?

SL: It does seem self-evident, but I reflected on it for a year and worked on it for five months, sculpting the ceramic prototype here in the studio. I wanted to create a sex toy and go beyond the taboo of these objects before I had the idea of using the Eiffel Tower. There are little ducks, crocodiles — everything you can imagine — and I knew there was a space for artists in the midst of all that, but didn’t immediately have a concrete idea of what I could do.

ML: So were you walking the streets of Paris one day then suddenly looked up and had your answer?

SL: Well, my middle name is Gustave, like Mr Eiffel, so it’s only natural that I followed in his footsteps! Everyone thinks of the Eiffel Tower as the phallic symbol of Paris. Even Gustave Eiffel thought of it that way; I’ve seen archival sources where he talks about the phallic dimensions of his project and how it would shock people. Tourists in the sex shops of Pigalle ask if such an item exists; it was inevitable that someone would do it, and just happened to be me.

ML: And what have public reactions been like in the first few months?

SL: The gay community loves it, it’s sold well in gay shops; it’s in the Musée de l’Érotisme and other galleries in France, Tokyo and Ibiza; it’s popular with tourists, as a gift for bachelorette parties. A lot of people who buy it are buying a dildo for the first time. Because it stands upright so sturdily on its pillars, there’s talk of using it in safe-sex programs demonstrating how to put on a condom. But above all, it makes people laugh.

ML: It’s an iconic symbol of France, 100% made in France. Do you consider it patriotic?

SL: There’s this paradox that France is ‘the land of love’, the French have an international reputation for being incredibly romantic and sensual, but in terms of export we’re only known for our artisanal products — lavender-scented cream, hand-made chocolates, candles — and not for our objets d’amour. At the moment it’s the German, Swedish, Chinese and American sex toys that are most widely recognised.

To put an end to that paradox, we launched Plaisir de France, an association for manufacturers of sex objects made in France with the objective of cultural diffusion, to increase the visibility and awareness of these products, to democratise our sector of the industry, liaise with export partners, create local jobs…

ML: But as an artist working in a grungy, DIY space like 59 Rue Rivoli, isn’t it strange to be so heavily involved in the commercial and marketing side of flogging your product?

SL: There is no contradiction between business and art. There is only a contradiction between representation and ideology. In reality, an artist is also an entrepreneur. If as an artist you have something to say, you have to find the means to say it. You have to get involved in the marketing, communication and PR side of things.

ML: And is the result still art?

SL: Artists in general have a strong, instinctive curiosity for questions of sexuality. Making love is a creative act; it’s like making art! La Tour Est Folle is effectively art because it’s the realisation of a concept. It’s the conception of a joyous, playful humanising image of sexuality; a vertical vision, from the earth to the sky. Between the extremes of pornography there’s a respectful space where there’s a freedom of expression, where anything is possible.

Le foetus, le phallus, these symbols are all part of the universal themes I explore: life, love, our animal nature. In French imagery, there is the French kiss, the French touch, the romantic capital. I play with that cliché. As an artist, I quickly work out what the cliché is and ask myself how to subvert that, transform that. People don’t just like La Tour Est Folle because it’s a dildo; they like it as a decorative object.

ML: So do you think people use it, give it a wash and polish and then display it on their mantle again?

SL: That’s what’s happening!

ML: What’s next for La Tour Est Folle?

SL: There are plans for a model that lights up, just like the real tower. We’re developing a mini-motor with new technology made in France. And I’ll be touring to Las Vegas, São Paulo and eventually Sydney to represent Le Plaisir de France internationally.

ML: Have you had imitators?

SL: No copies yet, but I’m sure in China without doubt there’ll be a copy on the way. If ours is a little more expensive than something that’s eventually produced in China, it will still be the original, of the best quality available, and 100% made in France.

So if you can’t surprise your sweetheart with a trip to Paris, La Tour Est Folle could be the next best thing, available for €39.99 at www.latourestfolle.com. Amusez-vous bien!

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So you think you can busk in Paris? Eight trade secrets from a pro (not me)

Melissa Accordion 6I’m ashamed to say it. My 48-button pearlescent-red accordion — a beauty purchased three years ago on a previous visit to Paris — is lying dormant in the fireplace and has not left the building since I moved here 1 July. Apart from the odd Yves Montand or Henry Purcell cover eked out as far as the end of the first chorus, she’s a woefully neglected squeezebox in need of a good squeeze from a more talented owner. If she were a French poodle, the la SPA would be sending me threatening letters.

This post is for her, for me, for la vie bohème and for wannabe buskers all over the world, especially debutants here in Paris.

Desmond Huîtres, busker extraordinaire, has agreed to share the secrets of his success as a hapless street musician, so you can prepare to audition for this year’s Musiciens du Métro scheme. I’m already inspired, and solemnly swear to report back as soon as I’ve roused my accordion and taken the plunge.

Busking in Paris: the world’s second oldest profession in the city of light

SamIt’s the middle of August in Paris. Your English-language students have gone south for some sun and the city has been left to the tourists. Thinking of supplementing your summer income with some busking? Maybe it’s time to test your mettle on the streets of Paris. Follow my top eight tips and you can profiter de your busking experience!

1. Go for it!

Don’t be afraid! Putting yourself out on the street and exposing yourself to the scrutiny of passers-by, competing with other street performers, beggars and monkey-stick-wielding organ-grinders is a thrilling but terrifying prospect. If it’s your first time – or your first time busking in a new city – the only way is to jump in the deep end. A ‘nothing to lose’ attitude will hold you in good stead. And remember: they can smell fear and desperation.

2. Ask yourself: ‘Why are you busking?’

The English word ‘busk’ comes from the Spanish verb buscar ‘to seek’ (i.e. fame or fortune). But what are you really searching for? Whether it’s emergency beer money you’re after (la vie bohème doesn’t come as cheap as you might think), an audience for practising your special skill or just for fun, being clear about your motivation (or at least open to thinking about it as you go) will help you hone your act and make the most of the experience.

3. Location is everything!

This busker extraordinaire’s best advice is to find somewhere you feel comfortable with plenty of people around and not too much background noise. Some popular locations in Paris include tourist hotspots such as Montmartre and Notre Dame as well as the Paris Métro. Here are the pros and cons:

Métro

Stars have been discovered on the Paris métro, but if you are a debutant and feeling a bit shaky you might like to think twice about like to think twice about bursting your equals in a crammed carriage. Regardless of your expertise, make sure you choose a good line (1 and 2 are recommended) and a good time of day (rush-hour 5-7 weekdays is not a good idea — especially not on line 13 — unless your act revolves around impersonating a soggy crêpe). Playing in the metro stops is also a possibility, and you will often see performers in large stations such as Châtelet, Opéra and République, although these areas are more stringently policed so take care.

The Pros: Playing on the métro is a real test of your act! It can also be a beautiful spot – on line 2, you can watch the city roll by as a captive audience watches you.)

The Cons: Your captive audience may turn on you. Aside from the risk of finishing your number on your arse on the wobbly line 11, there are some other technical challenges, too. For instance, after you perform you will need to pass around your hat (which takes a lot more guts than leaving one in front of you on the ground — do you have the guts?). Technically, you also require a permit (auditions for 300 spots are run by RAPT and start in September) and although nothing like Henry VIII’s decree to ‘whip unlicensed minstrels and players, fortune-tellers, pardoners and fencers, as well as beggars’ (which I believe is still on the books in London) is enforced in the Paris métro, punishments range from a stern telling off (in French) from the gendarmes to confiscation of busking paraphernalia, including money-hats and monkey-sticks.  Even fines are not unknown. You might also get robbed on the métro. Keep that in mind.

Tourist spots

Mime MontmartrePopular locations are around Notre Dame and Montmartre (a classic for accordionists and mimes). The streets around the basilica are full of little nooks and crannies and enterprising performers might rally a crowd in front of the church itself. You could also try in front of the Centre Pompidou or on the Île Saint-Louis (formerly known as Cow Island).

The Pros: These places are always packed. Also they are large so you can find a spot you like and make it your own! Often they are also quite beautiful.

The Cons: People live around Montmartre, so you may be abused by residents about noise if you get too far off the tourist trail. Also be aware that, like in any city, many buskers have their favourite spots and if you’re on someone else’s turf expect to learn some dirty French!

4. Smile and dance and sing!

Whatever your act you must be charming. This applies to busking in general but especially to busking in Paris, where smiles from strangers can be hard to come by. ‘Where does my charm lie?’ you must ask yourself.  If you’re a walk-by busker you really only have a few seconds to impress people. Dancing is always a winner. Especially in boots. And especially if this is not your skill. Know your act and play to your audience!

5. Be prepared for anything! To get the best of the experience, say yes to everything. If you get a song request try your best even if you don’t know the second verse. If you are approached by fellow buskers and invited to form an impromptu group, pourquoi pas? If you are asked directions and don’t know the way, give ’em anyway. If you are mobbed by a group of elderly German tourists, dance a polka for them. When you busk, you’re throwing yourself over to the unexpected. Embrace the wonderful surprises that come your way and you’ll make the most of it.

6. Really: be prepared for anything.

More specifically be prepared for being harassed by angry neighbours, angry buskers, angry children, angry commuters, angry policemen, angry restauranteurs, and perverts who are not-so-discreetly taking photos of your crotch… Unfortunately, this stuff happens. Chin up. It’s part of the fun. That being said, Paris has gained something of a reputation as a city unfriendly to buskers. Really, this is based on the high number of buskers, schemers and scammers chasing tourist euros and les flics trying to control the situation. But realistically, you’d be unlucky to have a problem. In several months this busker extraordinaire has had zero run-ins with the authorities and only one with a pervert taking photos of his crotch.

7. Think about your act.

Spending a little time thinking about your act will help your chances. Ask yourself if it will it work in the space you are performing in. If you are playing an instrument and/or singing will you be loud enough? Will you be visible from a distance?

Eugène_Atget,_Organ-grinder,_1898–998. …But don’t think about your act too much!

Unless you are really a pro who can comfortably manage a large group of people surrounding you and you have a specially trained monkey that goes around collecting money at the end of the show, you’re probably going to be pretty unprepared. But that’s part of the fun. The best way to improve your act is by trial and error! If it’s not working out, try to pinpoint the reason. Maybe you need to move? Maybe it doesn’t matter; just play and enjoy the beautiful view of Paris (See No.3: location is everything).

Best of luck, fellow buskers — see you on the streets of Paris!

Nuits d’été, concerts gratuits: music in the Marais (Hôtel d’Albret)

Something I’ve found no matter where I go in France, from Paris to Aix-en-Provence: if you pass a cobblestoned courtyard and the heavy 17th-century doors are flung open and there are people milling about, it pays to find out what the action is, and whether you ought to get in on it. Often you’re a welcome guest, and sometimes it’s magic what goes on in these courtyards.

Like me, you may find yourself wandering through the 4th arrondissement with an unmanageable falafel in one hand and a rogaleh in the other, and follow the strains of ethereal singing down Rue Francs-Bourgeois to the breezy courtyard of the Hôtel d’Albret, where you happen on a rehearsal for a free concert less than two hours hence. By the time you’ve finished stuffing your face with pita and pastries, a large crowd will have gathered to secure their seats in the intimate open-air stage, surrounded by 18th-century Louis XV architecture.

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A few enquiries later, and I’ve learned that I’m jostling people for a chair at the launch of France Musique’s concert series of daily direct broadcasts: same time, same place until August 30. “Shall we wait here and make sure we get our two seats in paradise?” two ladies joke in French behind me. I follow the crowd — it’s clearly a family affair — as they surge forth to claim their spots, then relinquish mine for a frail but sprightly spectator who resembles the elderly woman in Amour. No matter; even a sore ass from sitting on the hard, uneven pavés has a certain authentic charm, especially when you’re looking up at the perfectly framed blue sky.

Although the line-up was  announced in advance, there was a refreshing spontaneity about the way the musicians threw it all together. The poster gave me the impression there would be three short sets:

Henri Demarquette, violoncelle

Pascal Bertin, contre-ténor, et Pierre Gallon, clavecin

Thomas Enhco, piano jazz

In fact they all played together in various combinations – combining, too, their respective styles. Opening proceedings with a solo jazz improv on Schumann’s C-Major Arabeske Op 18 was the 24-year-old pianist Thomas, who took an electrolyte-charged, effervescent approach to reinterpreting classical repertoire. Bobbing up and down at the keyboard, boyish energy tempered by impeccable ear, he was my first exciting new discovery in what I’m sure will be many in the concert series. Henri Demarquette followed with an interesting contemporary selection from the Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher for solo cello by the late Maître Dutilleux.

During relaxed interviews with radio presenter Arièle Butaux between acts, it was revealed that Thomas had cut short a windsurfing holiday to rehearse with the other musicians in counter-tenor Pascal Bertin’s apartment the day before. The advertisement for the radio broadcasts promises classique, jazz et chanson; I assumed that would be across the series as a whole, not all in the one concert. Because the musicians pass so many posters amateur performances of The Four Seasons between the métro and the venue, they decided to make their own clever little Vivaldi mash-up as a quartet. Thus their punchy opening to the Presto from Summer segued into a sultry rendition of Gershwin’s Summertime, sung in sensual high voice by Pascal, who crooned Les Feuilles Mortes after a snippet of the Red Priest’s Autumn intro, and Winter’s Allegro seamlessly melted into Purcell’s The Cold Song. (By now, appropriately, Thomas had fetched his blazer and Henri was applying pegs to his music stand in a light but chill wind.)

It certainly wasn’t windy enough to curtail their fun, or to discourage me from returning to the courtyard of chance musical encounters – tomorrow it’s Cédric Tiberghien and friends. Allons-y!

Thomas Enhco’s album Fireflies is out now.

A different kind of Concert Hall: Nouvelles Vagues at Palais de Tokyo

pdt-nv-144This summer, my first spent entirely in Europe, I’ve played at being a professional festivalgoer. That meant bidding farewell to the Sydney Opera House and seeing the insides of a lot of concert halls. In Aix-en-Provence, I was blasted to the back of the stalls by the brass section in the Grand Théâtre de Provence, then huddled under a blanket under the stars in the open-air Théâtre de l’Archevêché. In the Grosses Festspielhaus Salzburg, I screamed ‘Bravo!’ at the timpanist in the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra’s Mahler, and spent the following night marvelling at arches hewn out of rock in the cavernous Felsenreitschule.

All prestigious venues, all powerful experiences. But none of them made me smile quite like the Jean Barberis-curated Concert Hall installation, currently on display at the Palais de Tokyo’s summer exhibition, Nouvelles Vagues.

The placard describes a ‘monster installation’, but it’s worth pointing out that we’re dealing with a small-scale, friendly monster. Exploring the gallery’s vast, concrete interiors, I come across a ramshackle hut, probably no bigger than my 20 metre-squared Parisian studio, constructed by the Rabid Hands collective and Brooklyn-based Sunita Prasad using found objects and materials rescued from landfill. You couldn’t fit an orchestra in. Still, cacophony beckons.

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Entrez; it’s like stepping inside a magical, malfunctioning music box. Though of course, everything in this cave-like interior is functioning intricately: automated glockenspiels tinkle away, an accordion hangs suspended from the ceiling, a set of heavy old hardbacks are transformed into a bass as part of a robotic rhythm section complete with mechanised drumsticks. Tangled wires, knobs and dials take over the space like the inside of a greenhouse left to grow wild. If Kubrick’s HAL 9000 had just chilled out and started a one-man band, it might have turned out a little something like this. The ghost in the machine twitches to life through a computer linked to a MIDI system, triggered by and interacting with visitors’ movements.

But the best surprise is that the surround-sound musical results are really rather lovely –far from stiff and robotic, it’s as if the robots gathered together for a tea party. Fans of Múm and The Books will appreciate the tuneful, glitchy folktronica by Julien Gasc, Nick Yulman and Ranjit Bhatnagar.

pdt-nv-146As part of the multidisciplinary collaboration that cobbled all this together, there are kaleidoscopic video installations and flashing lights by maya.rouvelle and Frédéric Durieu; unnecessary in my opinion, but nonetheless making a trip to the concert hall a delightful sensory overload. Patrons, please be advised that this production uses large amounts of charm and whimsy.

See Concert Hall as part of the Palais de Tokyo’s Nouvelles Vagues exhibition, running until 9 September, 2013. Photos by Aurélien Mole.

Sofar Sounds Paris: un endroit secret, un concert intime…

Untitled-4 copyAs Sofar Sounds state on their website, ‘We are passionate supporters of musicians and the magical nature of live performance.’ This international organisation hosts free concerts by emerging musicians in people’s living rooms around the world.

And where better to do it than in Paris?

Sign up for updates on these monthly gatherings, then RSVP for the gig you want to attend. If you’re accepted, you’ll be contacted with the address a day or two before.

I wince when I see that the latest postcode they’ve provided doesn’t begin with the 75 denoting Paris proper, meaning I’ll have to venture out into the Banlieue. But it doesn’t take long to locate the rambling terrace in Bagnolet – part enchanted garden with its vegetable patch, part Marrickville share house – taken over by casually dressed visitors stretched out sur l’herbe, soaking up the sun.

Usually Sofar Sounds is an indoor affair, but it’s summer in Paris, and Parisians love any excuse for a picnic. The afternoon’s line-up features six acts from France, England and the United States, all playing in the sun-dappled backyard chez Dimitri to an audience of around 50 mélomanes. Fairy lights have been draped along the picket fence; a garden of miniature gnomes is now a Heineken holding zone.

I find a patch of grass and, upon offering my Portuguese neighbours some 3-euro rosé, am promptly admitted into their circle. Squeezing along the garden path to load up a plate, I discover bearded French folk duo Kid With No Eyes (much less macabre than they sound) rehearsing unplugged out back and am introduced to the two Cléments that make up the group.

But it’s a gamine English songstress, Sophie Jamieson, who ascended the two concrete steps in flip-flops to sing in dulcet tones in front of the pink stucco façade. She plucks her guitar almost as quietly as she whispers shyly in halting schoolgirl French between songs, nearly drowned out by the kids playing basketball in the street outside our fenced secret garden.

Still,  the captive audience listens attentively and applauds her efforts warmly. The girl next to me munches chips in time to the music while her fella nods off in the grass. No one is bothered when Sophie makes a false start and has to begin again; when they are invited to click their fingers to the chorus, they join in heartily. After her set, she grabs a plate and joins us on the lawn to watch the next act. I’ve never seen Parisian concert audiences so well behaved and supportive, having come from the world of opera where they are quick to boo and whistle. (Do I even need to mention The Rite of Spring?) Perhaps it’s because we’re just outside the Paris postcode I know and love. Tant mieux.

Sign up for updates at www.sofarsounds.com – there’s also an Australian branch

Dinner with 70 strangers chez Jim

Pop along to Sunday dinner at Jim Haynes’ Paris atelier. 

Sunday Dinner at Jim's Feb 1, 2009

Back when ‘social networking’ meant eye contact and conversation over a good meal, Jim Haynes reigned supreme with his Parisian Sunday dinners, open to anyone who cared to drop by his converted artist’s atelier in the 14th arrondissement. More than 30 years on, social networking has devolved into posting inane status updates about the flakes of croissant you just brushed off your lapel. But the beloved open-house institution chez Jim continues to spread via word of mouth – and you’re invited.

The Louisiana-born expat proudly estimates he has hosted more than 130,000 guests over the years, with an average of 70 people from all ages and walks of life cheerfully pressed together in his pebbly courtyard each week for a multilingual chat – Americans dominate, so it may not be the best place to improve your French. That said, you never know who you’ll meet – Haynes, a mover and shaker in the theatre world who founded a journal on sexual freedom called Suck in Amsterdam during the 1960s, knew John Lennon and Yoko Ono before they knew each other. Despite some major artistic and literary connections, his philosophy is an all-inclusive one: all you have to do is email or call him to be added to the list. You arrive around 8pm in casual dress and leave an envelope containing the amount you feel the meal and company was worth (of the suggested 30 euros a head, some of the proceeds go to charity).

Haynes is definitely a more-the-merrier kind of guy — within reason. I email him two days ahead. “We are full tonight, but what the hell, you and your friend may attend!” he responds jovially. His hyper-detailed directions instruct me to “take exit 6 and walk straight ahead ten steps…turn right into Tombe Issoire and walk about 39 steps to big green gate.” Following them to the letter, I eventually find myself down the road from my own studio face-to-face with the master of ceremonies, apron-clad and perched on a high chair in the open-plan kitchen as friends and strangers file in. At 79 he’s charming as ever, always with a twinkle in his eye, but content to let his invités do most of the talking and mingling. Unlike most dinner parties, there’s no music to distract from the conversation. But you hardly notice, because the conversation and laughter flow abundantly for more than three hours.

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Tonight’s feast is a summer salad of olives, fennel, melon and cinnamon-spiced mango; meatballs or vegetarian tofu option, with zucchini, pecorino and mint pasta, and a dessert of ice cream with fruit compote and orange flower blossoms. The amateur Italian chef spent two days preparing and eagerly offered me the recipes.

While we eat – some seated, some standing; some well established in Paris and others just passing through – I speak with an elderly Australian man who tries to convince me that the freckle on his hand is actually a tattoo; a young Brazilian journalism student confesses she wants to make a difference and hopes not to become too jaded; a male American ballet dancer and his French publicist recommend their favourite bar in Oberkampf; an English set designer tells me about the time she met Leonard Cohen; the chef invites me to one of his musical soirées. There is nothing cynical about ‘working the room’ here, and everyone has a story to tell, none of them boring. One suspects that Jim’s is the most fascinating story of all.

Book at www.jim-haynes.com. Photos by Jesper Haynes.