The Sunday Night Paris Social Network
Last Thursday was a particularly poignant day for me and possibly for a few other Americans living in Paris who experienced what I had. The rain was lightly coming down, as it does in Paris — not really raining, but misting in a way that an umbrella does little good to keep you dry.
On the way to the cemetery, I stopped to buy a bouquet of flowers at a flower shop near the entrance to lay on Patricia Laplante Collins’ coffin at the funeral scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. at the Crématorium du Père Lachaise. I dressed in black as is appropriate for funerals, but wore a red coat in honor of Patricia, and purchased red flowers for the same reason.
Other mourners gathered inside the building, out of the inclement weather. We said our hellos to people we hadn’t seen in perhaps years — people we had met at one or more of Patricia’s Sunday Soirées or other community events — and others we see all the time. We all had this one person in common, regardless of our nationalities, although mostly we were Americans: black, white and pink. At 1 p.m. sharp, we filed into the chapel, where the coffin lay covered in flowers with a podium to the left and a small group of musicians in the back, playing something — honestly, I don’t remember what. I recognized a few of them from other times when American jazz and blues musicians performed, like at the Restaurant Bojangles when it was still alive and well and serving up gumbo.
I was the first to be called up to the podium to give a eulogy, having a hard time to deliver it without getting choked up. Then a few other speakers followed — people who had been close to Patricia or who had been touched significantly by her. The audience applauded them — something not normally done at funerals, but it seemed appropriate at this one.
Before we disassembled, a few of the community’s well-known African American singers performed a song. The audience clapped their hands and got into the swing, like being at a Southern Baptist church participating in the gospel. Patricia would have loved being there. We all thought that and missed her presence.
After the ceremony, those who wanted to celebrate her life filed over to a nearby cafe where wine was poured and a hat passed around to contribute to the costs. A few of us talked about what it’s like to be alone like she was and become ill (or die suddenly like she did) without anyone being around for help and what we could do to prevent that. Patricia’s body had lain on the floor for between two and three weeks before she was found. The story goes that her ex-husband hadn’t heard from her for a while, so he called the “guardien” (concierge) who then called the “pompiers” (firemen). They came and broke down the door. Because she was found on January 22nd, that’s the officially recorded date of her death.
(For those of you who don’t know who Patricia Laplante Collins was, be sure to read this edition of Parler Paris.)
Special note: A big thanks goes to Elizabeth Rimington, and her husband, Jim Ounsworth, who took it upon themselves to organize the administrative tasks and the funeral, at their own costs for now, which were substantial. In the coming months, we’ll have news of how you can make a contribution to the cause, should you wish to. If you would like to be kept informed of any news or future events to honor Patricia Laplante Collins, email Elizabeth Rimington to be put on the mailing list at: [email protected].
That very same evening, still battling the typical Paris weather, feeling damp inside and out, we trekked over to Columbia University’s Reid Hall in the 6th for a screening of “Meeting Jim,” “a feature length documentary about a journey back to the lifetime of Jim Haynes,” made by four young women and one young man, who hadn’t known each other until they met at Jim’s Sunday Dinner. It was there 2.5 years ago that they decided to do the project, with no financial backing — just an idea and a lot of talent.
Jim Haynes is legend in his own time; what they describe as “an extraordinary 83-year-old man who grabbed with heart and soul the spirit of the 60s and continued to carry it throughout his life.” I first wrote about him in Parler Paris as long ago as October 1, 2004. That was a special day for me. Not only was it my daughter’s 19th birthday, but it was the first day of my new life as a “blog writer.”
The director, Ece Ger, wanted the world to be as inspired by Jim as she was, and everyone who meets him. The Guardian once wrote, “Jim is the ‘founder of the social network’,” — something you learn the moment you meet him and by watching the film, because Jim’s open-door policy has led to thousands of people from every corner of the world getting to know one another live and in person, not just online or virtual. Like Patricia, Jim has a knack for remembering every name, every face and something important about each person he meets. It’s an uncanny gift they shared with each other and with all of us.
Jim sat at the back of the room in a wheel chair as the audience watched the documentary. Jim’s libertarian personality and vast world that has touched so many came to life. The film did an exemplary job of reaching its goal — and we’re fortunate that we can witness it while Jim is still with us on this planet. He is still holding his dinners, and will until there’s no life left in him.
Both Jim and Patricia have held their dinners on the same nights for many years — Patricia’s were held for about the last 20 years, double that for Jim. Both of these Americans can be credited for being at the center of the Paris social network and bringing the community together in a way that no organization has ever done or likely ever will.
At the end of the day, I asked myself, “Will there ever be someone who can replace either one or both of them?” Then, I remembered something Jim said in the film: (I paraphrase) “You can never go back [to a place or a time]; you can only go forward.”
There will never be another Patricia Laplante Collins or Jim Haynes, but we can hope for looking forward to new blood with as big a heart as each of theirs.
A la prochaine…
P.S. A new House Hunters International episode, filmed in Nice with John G. Jones, will air for the first time in the United States on Monday, March 25, 2019 at 10:30 p.m. EST on HGTV, and will air again three hours later at 1:30 a.m EST. In a day or two, you’ll be able to consult hgtv.com/shows/tv-schedule for more details.