Where celebrities roam, ordinary 'stars' shine bright

'Hannibal Lecter" was once the honorary mayor of my hometown. I remember seeing him for the first time as I strolled down our quaint little main street one morning. He was sitting contentedly at a table outside the local deli, washing down what appeared to be his last few bites of eggs with a tall glass of orange juice. But the sinister gleam in his eyes didn't escape my notice. When he licked his lips and smiled, I knew that he was really enjoying the lingering aftertaste of what had most certainly been someone's "liver with some fava beans."

Anthony Hopkins isn't the only star of the silver screen who has momentarily suspended reality for me. Growing up near Hollywood, I have also witnessed "Rocky" hitting golf balls and "Forrest Gump" strolling through the park (curiously, without a box of chocolates).

It has taken me years to grow accustomed to these familiar faces. I used to be as star-struck as Galileo, fascinated by these creatures from a galaxy far, far away who were blessed with the unique ability to radiate a light of their own.

I learned that this glow emanating from Hollywood lights up the whole world when, during a year living in Spain, I first met the woman who would become my wife. The multiplex in Seville where I took Maria on our first date was packed with young couples eager to see Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer."

It became clear to me then that the transient yet rewarding opportunity to escape from everyday preoccupations in the darkness of a movie theater proves irresistible to us all.

Looking back on it now, my first couple of years knowing Maria could have come straight out of a movie.

Blissfully in love, we were as oblivious to the outside world as we were to the fact that the intoxicating feeling wouldn't last forever. Walks were our preferred method of escape. We loved to spend afternoons strolling through Seville's version of Central Park, the Parque de María Luisa, because the leafy foliage kept out the bustle and the intense summer heat of this city in southern Spain.

Maria bravely boarded her first plane and visited me in California when my year in Spain came to an end. She would be the first to admit that she harbored a secret desire to see at least one or two celebrities in addition to her wonderful boyfriend.

Her wish came true almost immediately.

On our first walk together through the Westwood district of Los Angeles, we got caught up in a throng of people eagerly peering over police barricades. It turned out that they had their eyes wide open for the array of celebrities arriving for the world première of Stanley Kubrick's last film, "Eyes Wide Shut."

That night we spotted many members of Hollywood's A-list: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, Jodie Foster, and Dustin Hoffman.

They seemed as dazzling as the gold stars we saw the next day on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Therein lies the allure of fame: It seems to offer immortality even when ordinary people are as Virginia Woolf described them, "but bones with a few wedding rings mixed up in their dust."

Fast forward five years. Maria and I have just moved into our first condo in Los Angeles. Celebrity spotting has become almost routine on the streets near our new home.

The irony that many stars might actually yearn for the chance to lead a normal life had always escaped me in the past, but not any longer.

I recently saw Harrison Ford leaving a restaurant with carryout bags in one hand and a grinning child in the other. Indiana Jones he was not. Rather, he was just a real person going about his daily life.

Marriage has also shown me that you don't have to step outside everyday life to make it meaningful.

Shortly after I had proposed to Maria, we flew back to Spain to visit her family. We decided to take a walk through the Parque de María Luisa as we had done so often during that first year. Only this time we happened to run into several of Maria's friends. They were immediately able to guess the reason for her glowing smile.

"I'm starting to feel famous," Maria jokingly remarked as she held up her engagement ring for the umpteenth time.

As I stood there and looked at my soon-to-be wife with admiration and pride, it suddenly occurred to me that there are plenty of reasons for us to have stars in our eyes: Buried beneath the humdrum routine of our daily lives are moments that still shine.

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