I have this theory of fame that is not unlike the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Of course, I hear six degrees and I think oven temperature and I hear ‘bacon’ and I am thinking food but then, that is me – chef/writer. But the notion that we are all within six contacts or degrees of another person, often famous, connected by human/social strings is very true in my case. I added up all the celebrities I met recently and it was quite a list. Fame follows me or I follow….fame. It started with….
It is around 1975 or so. I was on a beach in Florida with my boyfriend’s family. Someone told me there was a great musician, a trumpet player relaxing on the beach and to go check him out. “He’s famous’.
I thought at the least, because I played clarinet and loved music, it would be a thing to do. I was 17-18 or so and made my way to this gangly fellow, with skinny legs and a raspy voice. We sat and chatted about music for an hour or so; other people, kids and adults came and went but I stayed. I had a music story and thus a legitimate passport to hanging 'round versus gawking and autograph hunting; I was a musician and felt at ease hanging out with this middle-aged and fascinating man. He had a sardonic chuckle and while not all that old, he seemed aged and weathered beyond his years.
The musician tapped my mouth at one point and pointed to my soon-to-be removed braces – how can you play with those, he asked? Changes your whole embouchure, he said. Good point. Good chat. Interesting man and aside from the raspy voice and limited pounds on a rangy frame, he was just …folks. His name was Miles Davis. That I have a son who is a jazz musician, composer and arranger only makes that meeting all the sweeter and the one story my son asked me to re-tell time and again. Did you know, speaking of time, that it is Miles Davis that wrote, Time After Time – the song Cyndi Lauper revived?
And then one day, about a year or so after that, I was walking on a cold, New Year’s Day on ice-bound, snowy Montreal streets. It was early morning and on January lst, the streets were deserted. A man walked towards me – quite tall and he had on a trench coach. I thought to myself, ONLY an American would wear a trench coat in winter in Montreal. He nodded at me as we passed, tipped his hat, and smiled and said, ‘Cold out, yes?”. I smiled back and said good morning. In Montreal, in those days, you could do those things. And I was right. He was indeed American. His name was Robert Mitchum.
Or that time I went to my dad’s store to surprise him and instead, found Harry Belafonte buying a slew of suits. It was my birthday and Harry joked with my dad and made him give me $10 as a birthday present. It was actually, an odd moment between two men – not particularly a great moment for the dynamics was askew. And yes, you are probably thinking – Harry Belafonte is one of the finest singers ever and you would be right but the truth is, my dad made the finest suits you could find in any city. So, that’s more about what I remember about that Almost Famous moment.
Or the time I bumped into KD Lang, out early (again) one morning a few years ago, when the Montreal Jazz Fest was on then there was that funny fellow I met when we both landed at Montreal airport on my way home from a chocolate exhibit in New York. I never drink - I am a strict teetotaler but on planes, because I am phobic of flying, I do. What happens is that I stumble off planes, waddle through customs and often, randomly call someone (usually male) and declare undying (and untrue) love to them. Once, it was my dry cleaners, Ari, and only because the only number in my pocket handy was the dry cleaner pink receipt for my chef's jacket. Once I make such calls, I proceed to talk to whoever is nearby as I chill down with copious cups of coffee. This time, again, I bumped into an American and had a welcome to Montreal chat. Maybe he was having an off moment or maybe my altered state was none too appealing. Hard to remember clearly. Which American was he? Nathan Lane.
And it’s not as if I haven’t paid to see celebrities perform either – like Sammy Davis Jr, Bob Hope and Freddy Printz (yes, on the same bill), the late John Ritter and his first wife performing in Cape Cod Playhouse, or Mandy Patinkin when he performed here are few years ago. Oh, but there you go again. I saw Mandy and guess what –turns out he also has a son called Gideon (5 degrees of separation). Then, I start my website. A woman writes me and asks for an obscure Jewish pastry even I never heard of. We chat by email; become penpals. She sends me her rugulah recipe. She is lovely. Her name is Patinkin. Dora, actually. I say to Dora in one of our emails, funny thing – the only other Patinkin I know is Mandy, the singer. Dora says, me too. He’s my son. And oy, he is traveling so much now, I worry for him. (Now that’s 4 degrees of separation).
Two summers ago, I was walking in Old Montreal. A handsome, rugged man stumbled out of a building looking almost Francophone Montreal but with this swagger. I realize I know him. I have one of his books and we both share the same publisher, Random House (4 degrees of separation).I congratulate him on his new book. It is rather good for an actor. Ok, it is rather good, for anyone to author anything. We talk about writing, publishing and Random’s publicity department. We shake hands and wish each other continued success in authordom. A few months later I read how his marriage broke up and he had been with some pretty thing in Montreal. I swear it wasn’t me. Who was the he, this time? Ethan Hawke.
Then Janis Ian emailed me – she talked about her grandmother being a great Jewish baker; I admired her music. Kenny Loggins wrote me supportive words when I left my marriage and Russell Crowe wrote – when I thanked him for helping to rebuild the synagogue library in Montreal that was fired bombed. Yes, Russell is like that. He wrote a lovely note, warm and friendly, made nice comments on my website and that was that. Caught in the act of being human: No degrees of separation. And seeing Robert Kennedy Jr. speak two years ago at an obscure and free event in Montreal on fisheries, things green and politics also doesn't count but it should. Few people seemed to know he was here and speaking and to this day, I remain inspired at that evening which almost seems surreal.
I don’t count Julia Child, Jacques Pepins, Rose Levy Bernanbaum, Charlie Trotter, Bonnie Stern, Nigella Lawson, nor Paul McCartny’s first wife (a cake person of note in London) despite the fact I have been pen pal or privately broken bread with them because frankly, those are my colleagues but esteemed and famous, they may be.
Which brings me to the last two references but first, my take on all this. I don’t know why I meet so many celebrities. And fame never beguiled me. Real folks do. People seemed surprised when I answer my own mail. I never want to be that renown I can’t do that. When people ask when I will be on Oprah, I still think – bless Oprah but maybe, one day, she will be on my show or in my book or film. And as for the celebrities I met, I think we all might think in terms of – who has met us, instead. Turn it around. True celebrity is inner sense of self.
Be that as it may……Last summer, I advertised two old pianos on Craigslist. The first person to call and was quite intrigued was a young man called Will, who was in Montreal via Texas. He raced over to see the old upright I was selling. “What a black beast’ Will marveled. He said he was mostly a singer, songwriter and just wanted a funky old piano to noodle around on. I get that. And I felt my beloved piano (which was making way for a second hand, new piano) would go to a good home. Done, said Will and promised to return the next day with cash and line up a mover. I asked him who he played with and he waved and said – an Indie band – very small. I didn’t press him and he seemed to pshaw his talents.
Next day, he showed up; told me he had a mover hired and we just needed to wait about 30 minutes for him to arrive. I plied Will with fresh challah and honey (it was Friday afternoon) and brownies and packed up a box of warm chocolate chip cookies as he revealed it was his sister’s birthday that night. We chatted, I baked and his piano mover showed up. Who was it? My own piano mover and tuner, Horut, who is a fun loving Armenian who also tangos a bit. (Remove necessary 2 degrees of separation).
We did a brief kitchen tango as we do when he moves/tunes/or otherwise visits whatever piano I have at the time; he moved Will’s piano and both of them were off. Later on, when I had a moment, I checked out Will’s band on iTunes and found his website. Arcade what? Fire Arcade? Something like that. I found it. A little Indie band indeed –they opened for David Bowie, were writing for 6 Feet Under (more degrees removed) and storming American, Canada and Europe. Turns out, even my son Ben’s school music strings teacher, Marika, had run off and joined them which explained why, after summer vacation, she was nowhere to be found in the school music department. (Remove all degrees of separation). In Fire Arcade’s honor and Will’s humility and talent, I created Fire Arcade or Almost Famous Cake. . Make it – see if it doesn’t hit all the right notes.
Which brings me back to Old Montreal again….where I spent a whole Sunday recently playing tourist? I took shots of people who were actually tourists and wound up having breakfast with a retired lawyer and her husband who is in the Internet business, described by his wife as ‘no one knows what he does actually‘. Wireless something. When we talked, turned out the Chicago couple were real foodies and knew who I knew and so on and so forth. They were thrilled to talk and their older daughter was also in music school as is my son (another degree of separation, knocked off). They were lovely people. They asked if I would mind if our waiter would take a picture of me and them so they could tell the people at home, they met “Marcy Goldman’ chef and cookbook author. Sure, I said, I am honored. So, somewhere, on the outskirts of Chicago, I am in some Kodak online album, as a (quasi) celebrity. I was sighted. I had to smile because there but for the grace of my honesty, I am …just me and this kind twosome has a photo of some anonymous woman from Montreal, sharing breakfast with them. Maybe I was…no one?
Remove all degrees of separation.
Lately, Brad Pitt is filming in Montreal. I daren't even visit the set or walk the harbor streets which have been tweaked to look like old Europe (Montreal gets alot of that) lest Brad Pitt and I create another 6 Degree moment that will birth another recipe. I don't need the extra baking frankly.
Celebrity in this age of disclosure and no boundaries is thinning out. Andy Warhol was right – we all get our 15 minutes or 15 clicks of fame. But in the end, what is fame on its own? What is renown? And what merits our attention?
What is real and worthy or what and who CNN et all tells us does?
You know that part of Bon Appetit magazine wherein they ask who you would want to eat dinner with? I think about that. And it’s not Oprah nor John Mayer (close) nor Barbara Streisand or even Frank Gehry or Al Gore. It would probably be: Astor Pizzaola, Henry David Thoreau, Jane Austen, and Lousia May Alcott to name a few.
But honestly? I would love to dine with anyone who had integrity, interesting stories, manners, vitality and was living life in full engagement. Because if I could have any special guests for dinner, and know the table would be bountiful in all the right ways, and void of empty calories of fame, I would invite the people I love and respect the most. I guess it would be, quite simply, and unequivocally, my three sons. Not almost famous. Wholly real.
Marcy Goldman 2007 (c)
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