Close encounters of the 5th kind: Part 2

I do not think it is a coincidence that famous people usually end up married to other famous people. I know they are more likely to hang around almost exclusively with their own kind, which would somewhat explain it, but I also think there is something of an ‘other worldliness’ at play. Kind of like they pretend to be earthlings much like ourselves while completely failing to assimilate. For example, the latest issue of O magazine has an article about what Oprah cooks when she is relaxing at home on the weekend. One of her creations is spaghetti with a lemon sauce that she apparently invented when all she had left in the fridge was lemons and basil. While it certainly goes a long way towards perpetuating the image that Oprah is just like us (plus or minus a few hundred million), I find it very hard to believe she doesn’t have a grocery shopper on her personal payroll. Anyhow, here are more aliens among us that have crossed my path.

I regularly go to a spa in Mexico called Rancho la Puerta. It is the kind of place that Californians really love: seaweed wraps, organic lacto-ovo virtuous cuisine, and all the yoga you can pack into a day. And since it is a short drive across the border in Baja California, it is a very convenient retreat when the beach house in Malibu is being redecorated.

On my first trip, Walter Becker was there. I was never particularly a fan of Steely Dan, but when even the Hollywood types attending that week (including several screen writers and B list actors, all of whom converged around the one television to watch the Oscar broadcast) were buzzing about his presence, I was curious to see what he looked like. This does not strictly reflect my lack of Steely Dan knowledge, as I don’t think photos of Becker and Fagan were as prevalent as those of Mick Jagger, for example. Anyhow, you would not be able to easily pick Walter Becker out of a line-up. He is your average, balding, middle-aged guy with a wardrobe that consisted of baseball caps, jeans and ironic t-shirts. His only distinguishing characteristic was his entourage, a modest collection of staff that included his personal physician, a trainer, a nutritionist who also served as a dining companion, and someone I’m pretty sure was his astrologer. And indeed, if you are rich enough, why not give back by creating your own economic zone.

On my next trip, there was a dearth of musicians and movie stars so I had to make do with a Canadian celebrity of sorts. Joanne Kates is the restaurant critic for the Globe & Mail, and has been since 1971. As you may know, restaurant critics usually go to great lengths to disguise their appearance and avoid having photographs out in the public domain. Ruth Reichl wrote an entire book about being a master of disguise when she was a restaurant critic in New York City. I knew Joanne Kates was at the resort because her name was on the guest list that gets handed out at the start of the week. This was my chance to learn what no one else knew: what she looked like.

As luck would have it, I was seated at a table with her one night. It didn’t take long to figure out that the woman who introduced herself as Joanne was indeed the person I was stalking. My first clue was her running commentary throughout the meal about the success (or not) of each course. Amazingly, and probably the reason she is so successful at disguise, she is nowhere near what you would expect a restaurant critic to weigh in at. True to her craft, she was the font of many Rancho dining hall secrets, like how to get bread at dinner (for some reason a rationed commodity) and that you could order as many main course dishes as you like (why not try all three?). This habit was not as disastrous as you might think, since you could eat everything on offer all day and barely top 500 calories. This is perhaps one reason why the spa is not very popular among the men-folk (Walter Becker excepted, although he probably had a secret stash of junk food). Luckily, reluctant spa-goers can always jump the fence and go across the street to chow down on chicken enchiladas and drink Tecate beer. But I digress. I continue to return regularly to the Rancho when time and budget allow and my most anticipated source of amusement is wondering what person of note will be added to my list of close encounters.