The End

“This is for your library,” Carl says, handing the book to me. I look forlornly at my growing pile. He takes another book off the shelf, squints at it for a minute and then, unable to make out the small print, hands it to me. I read the description and then wait for him to tell me which pile to add it to. His interest is piqued, and he eagerly grabs it from my hands.  This one is a keeper, this one will go to Norway with him. Thank God.

Going through the shelves of books, one by one, is a tediously painstaking process, and I silently wonder why he couldn’t have just done the separating on his own and called me over when things were ready to be packed in bags. I let out a small sigh. He passes me another and then another and very slowly we work through his stack of books. Most of them are ones that he had started reading but had never finished. He finds the marker – business cards, small pieces of paper – tucked between the pages and pauses to remember why he had stopped reading. The majority of the books are added to my library but some will stay with him. A lot of the “keepers” are ones that he has adopted from Anna.

We think a lot about Anna during the hours that we spend sorting through his books.  It has been years since Anna fell in the staircase in the house next door and was moved in to a home. Carl and I had once made the two hour trek by car to visit her, following the steep, never-ending ascent of the mountain curves until we pulled up in front of the cold, grey, lifeless institution that resembled more a prison than a home. What we found upon our arrival was the skeleton of the Anna we once knew. Her grandiose physical presence – her tall stature and outspread arms – that had always occupied so much space was now folded compactly into a wheelchair. Her once booming theatrical voice was now nearly drowned out by the TV that droned on endlessly behind her. We knew that it was the last time we would see her, but we also knew that we hadn’t arrived in time to say goodbye. She was unsure of who we were. Her spirit, the essence that had made Anna Anna was long gone. When we left her that day, the center gave us bags of her personal clothing that she would no longer need and asked if we could contribute some money to her personal care fund. The government funding that they received was enough to keep her alive, but it wouldn’t keep her groomed. We left 40 euros. Anna was a woman of dignity and would certainly want her hair cut.

The day that Anna left her house and our street, Carl had gone out of his way to make sure to save her books. He had lovingly rehomed them on his own bookshelf. But now, 14 years after he had arrived, Carl, too, is leaving the street.  During lockdown, his (along with Anna’s) home had been broken into. The thieves had ruthlessly sifted through his belongings, packing Carl’s market trolley full of his antique candlesticks, watches, and countless other items. They had spared some things. They had broken the lock of his treasured cigar box but weren’t interested in the contents and had carelessly thrown the broken box full of cigars – including the hand-rolled one that I had brought back for him from Cuba – on the bed. They had also left his books and his paintings that hung on the walls of his house.  They hadn’t understood their value. After seeing how much of his life had been removed from his village house, Carl can’t imagine a future here, and now he is here to finish their job.

I wait patiently as Carl examines the dog-eared pages of one of the books. “Yes, this one was Anna’s,” he says. “I don’t do that to my books.” It takes us an entire afternoon to sort through Carl’s library. He doesn’t have the space in Norway for so many books, so he has to choose sparingly which ones he wants to take with him. “Carl, I’m trying to get rid of my own stuff,” I softly say to him when I have to start a third bag for “my library”. “Most of these books I’ll be taking to the charity shop.” The thought that his beloved library will be pawned off for 1 euro per book must be painful for him, for he quickly tells me to tell Mimi and Linda, both avid readers, to come over to sort through the bags to see if they would like to keep any of them. Mimi appears the next day but doesn’t even look through the bags. She, too, is trying to get rid of stuff. We lure Linda in a few days later. We had run into her by accident while Carl and I were in town getting a snack. Two gin and tonics later, Linda is in prime condition to agree to adopt a bag full of books. Carl is relieved that at least he found a loving home for part of his library. He shows his gratitude by gifting us with a stack of small abstracts that he has painted on the back of cardboard, envelopes, random pieces of paper. He believes in recycling. They are unsigned so, before Linda leaves, we go up to the kitchen on the top level so that he can sign each and every one of them. “Now all we need is for you to keel over so that these become valuable,” Linda blatantly jokes with him.

That entire week, I meet with Carl nearly every day to help him dismantle his home. We work slowly between the different rooms and the different levels of his stacked house. He gets distracted easily, picking up one item after another to tell me about their significance. I’m impatient to get on with my day and try to keep him focused on the mission. It’s only later, while writing this, that I realize that this was Carl’s way to acknowledge and honor each item of his home, each piece of his life in Altea. It takes time to say goodbye. And he wants me next to him not for the physical help but for the emotional support. The break-in has been traumatizing for him, the departure even more so.

His easels, on the top level where he paints, are among the last items that he prepares for shipping. He doesn’t need to bring them, for he has many more in his home in Norway, but they are not among the items that he offers me. He doesn’t consider leaving them behind even for a second. He folds them up and expertly wraps them with masking tape so that they don’t get damaged in the move. I let him do this task. He’s an artist. It’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing. While he prepares the easels, I look out of the arched windows at the street below. AlteArte is on the corner.

“Take the director’s chairs,” he tells me, pointing towards the black, foldable chairs. “They were Anna’s.” I  make a mental note to add them to my pile. They don’t look significant to me, but the important title Carl has given them makes me question my own judgement. Later, David sees the chairs and asks me in disbelief, “Those are the director’s chairs? They’re 2 euro chairs from the Chinese shop!”  After the shipper has removed everything from the house, and I’m packing our car with the remaining items, I add the chairs on top of the pile designated for the charity shop.  I haven’t yet made it to the shop before Carl calls and reminds me to take the director’s chairs from the house. “They were Anna’s,” he reminds me. I will keep them. I don’t have a choice.

In the remaining days before Carl leaves, Carl asks me if I can ask David to remove the antenna, the infamous antenna that Carl had installed when, after endless struggles to connect to our wifi at AlteArte, he had finally signed up for his own internet service. This isn’t the first time that he is asking for help to take down the antenna, but I know that David has his hands full with work at AlteArte. “Is it something that I can do,” I ask Carl. He surprises me by agreeing readily and, together, with wrenches in hand, he leads the way to the rooftop terrace. The antenna is attached to the side of the house, accessible only by leaning halfway off the terrace. It’s a hot day, and the sun is shining relentlessly upon us as he tries to grab the bolts with the wrench. I’m worried about him, about his bad back, and offer to try. He hands me the wrench and I lean out. But the angle is awkward, and I don’t make much more headway. He seems to be determined now to do it himself and takes back the wrench. I sit back helplessly and watch. After twisting and turning for a while, he finally loosens it and detaches it from the wall. It turns out that Carl, despite all the aches and pains that he always complains about, is capable of a lot. He just needs the company. Or maybe he needs the feeling that he’s helping me – even though I’m the one that’s supposed to be helping him.

The symbolism of packing up Carl’s life in Altea hits me several times during the week that we spend in his house, and I experience my own bag of mixed emotions, regularly bouncing between nostalgia and impatience verging on annoyance.  Now, while writing this, though, the significance of Carl’s departure has truly sunk in, and I just feel sad, and the tears fall freely.

Just as we felt Anna’s departure, I feel Carl’s. Carl was the last of our neighbors, the last man standing. Our street, once a vibrant neighborhood, is now comprised of either abandoned houses or vacant holiday homes. As much as our neighbors caused stress in those early years of AlteArte, when we would worry about bothering them with the noise or closing on time, they also brought life and personality.

It turns out that, just as Carl was preparing to leave, so was another neighbor who lived just around the corner from AlteArte. Our flute-playing, Altean neighbor who barely acknowledged us and visibly showed his disgust at our tables that blocked (but didn’t block) his way, also left but with much less noise and fanfare than Carl.  Unlike Carl, though, he had left his house a mess, (one of the tasks that Carl had assigned to me was removing the nails and patching the walls as well as arranging for a cleaner), and owing months of rent. I couldn’t believe that he could be gone just like that. He had always been such a permanent fixture in the Old Town. I was sure that he would die in that house. I couldn’t believe that he had abandoned his post.

The end of an era has arrived. The only constant thing in life is change. I’m just glad that we arrived in time to experience our street when it was full of life, when Carl would call out “Sara Bird” from his living room window as I took out the terrace tables and chairs to open for the day, when Anna would stand barefoot and greet us from her plant-laden balcony, when Sue and Peter would wave to us before disappearing into their house down the street. Without neighbors, we would have never had the drama the day after our hugely successful Summer party, which, unfortunately, fell on a Tuesday and had resulted in the whole street glaring at us for a good couple of days. Maybe I’ll even miss the hostile looks from the flute-playing musician whenever he would round the corner on his way to his car.  Maybe. But probably not.

Meanwhile, the bags of books from Carl’s house are still filling up the trunk of our car. I haven’t had the heart yet to go to the charity shop. One day soon…

Carl and Linda

Carl signs the abstracts for Linda and me.


Off Balance

The world is made up of opposites. We have to have bad days to appreciate the good ones. It’s not without having seen the light that we can understand the concept of darkness.

Since Spain went into lockdown, we’ve seen a fair share of good. Our community in Altea immediately connected via WhatsApp to connect with each other via funny videos, jokes and messages. We’ve entertained each other with our writing, we’ve serenaded each other with our music. We’ve reached out when one of us is feeling down, when one of us was missing an important trip and another couldn’t make it back in time to see her son who was visiting from Australia. Together, we’ve tried to help those who are struggling and have pooled more than 1,000 euros for Red Cross shopping and to feed the homeless.

We’ve also seen examples of massive efforts, undertaken by a few. For the past couple of weeks, Constantin and Tanya, the owners of Mana, a restaurant along the seafront, have donated their skills and their time to cook for 50 families who have nothing and who will not be receiving any government assistance. At such a difficult time, when restaurateurs are facing such an uncertain future and scrambling to figure out how to ensure their own survival, it’s amazing to see such a selfless act of giving.

Good has come in the form of being able to stay better connected to my college friends who now have a lot more time on their hands. Living on different continents and in different States has made keeping in touch tricky over the years, especially as some of us have started our own businesses, others have had demanding careers requiring extensive travel and yet others have started families. But, almost since the beginning of lockdown, eight of us – who once shared a 12 bedroom house in college – meet via Zoom. We’ve never been so cut off from each other, yet we’ve never been better at keeping in touch.  To see their faces and hear their updates once a week is a boost of comfort, a dose of safety to get me through another week of uncertainty.

Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, and we’ve seen how burglars have targeted the vacant houses in Altea’s Old Town. Knowing that the owners aren’t at home, they’ve broken windows to gain access, climbed in through bedroom windows to steal, and helped themselves to our neighbors’ and our friends’  personal belongings. Just down the street from us, a woman with her two teenage sons broke into a house with plans to squat. When neighbors spotted the family and the cops came, the woman refused to leave. She finally did, days later, but she took what wasn’t hers and left the house a mess.

As unsettling as it is that houses are getting broken into, equally unsettling is the fact that there’s a good chance that no one would have even noticed – if it hadn’t been for David. Heading to AlteArte one day on one of his daily visits to make sure everything was OK with the building, he noticed the broken window of a house just a few doors down. I quickly searched through my email, found the contact information of the English owner and sent him an email to let him know. Returning home from AlteArte later than usual a few days later, David spotted the lights on in the house just next door to the first. “Is it possible you might have left the lights on,” I quickly texted the person who lived there but was in quarantine elsewhere. No, he hadn’t. Someone had broken in. They had stepped on the flower pots, climbed the iron bars to reach the second level and broken the bedroom window. We called the cops, they dusted for fingerprints, and then left without further word. David was left with the task of boarding up the broken windows of both houses so that the thieves couldn’t reenter – or, in the very least, to show them that even though the houses are vacant, they’re far from forgotten.

But what would have happened if David hadn’t been observant? Who would have noticed the broken windows in a sleepy town under lockdown? Where were the police? Why weren’t they protecting the Old Town, especially since no one else could?

The cops have been plenty busy, as evidenced by the number of fines. Since the lockdown went into effect on March 14th, Spain has issued more than 800,000 fines, second only to France in all of Europe. They have been patrolling the highways, catching drivers trying to flee to their vacation homes and slapping them with 1,500 euro fines. They’ve been in the supermarkets, checking the IDs of the customers to make sure that they’re local. And they’ve been answering calls, like the one they got from our friends’ neighbor. The neighbor had quickly called when she saw my friend’s 13 year old daughter cartwheeling back to her house through the private garden after having dumped the trash. It was just a few days before the restrictions were relaxed, and children and teenagers weren’t yet allowed outside. By this point, they had not been allowed to leave the house once in more than six weeks. The incident ended in a 1,000 euro fine to the parents.

The cops have been working. In fact, they’ve been out in full force. It’s just that their attention has been elsewhere. They’ve been so distracted by cartwheeling teenagers that they’ve failed to notice the burglars stealthily climbing in and out of broken windows just behind their backs.

We’ve heard of some neighbors baking cakes and bringing them over to their neighbors. We’ve heard of others that call the cops at the slightest sight of wrongdoing. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to all if these hyper-vigilant neighbors redirected their attention to their vacant neighbors’ homes?

But it’s not just the police or the nosy neighbors who have been looking the wrong way. As a nation, we’ve been distracted and have altogether lost sight of what constitutes well-being. We fervidly check our forehead for signs of a fever, get anxious about body aches, cower from a cough. Yet we overlook the fact that, after more than six weeks in confinement, someone might be physically safe, but, mentally, he or she could be downright losing it. Last Thursday, the owner of a bar in Seville was found dead in his bar. Unable to cope with the situation, he decided it would be easier to take his own life. Shortly before that, a friend of ours was picked up by the police and taken to the hospital. He was on a cocktail of drugs, pacing the streets naked while claiming that he was Hitler and threatening to kill everyone. The police’s remedy for mental sickness? Yep, a fine. This lockdown comes with a big price tag. Obviously, someone’s got to pay it.

Good can’t exist without the bad. Opposites are always at play. However, during these unprecedented times and in this twilight zonish situation, the balance between good and bad seems off. The definition of what constitutes bad behavior seems too black and white. But that’s not all that’s off kilter.

Ever since the pandemic, child and domestic abuse cases have been on the rise worldwide. It turns out that, for many, the very people who are supposed to love them and protect them are, in fact, their aggressors. For these people, the lockdown is even more deadly than the virus itself. I read the data, I hear about the latest victim on the news and I wonder,  “When did we lose the ability to love?”

In the US, Trump suggested that washing out our insides with bleach could protect us from the virus. Days later, patients were being admitted to the hospital… after having drank bleach. I shake my head in disbelief. When did people stop thinking for themselves?

Yesterday, the Spanish government announced that squatters could register themselves in their occupied house of choice, meaning if that mother and her two teenager sons had just held out a little longer in their occupied house down the street, they could have tapped in to many of the benefits being offered by the Covid virus situation, including a monthly income. Hours later, we hear about how the same government is in talks to reduce senior citizens’ pension plans. How come those who work hard and play by the rules are the very ones who pay the price? Oh right. Someone has to pay the price.

It will take a while for the world to re-find its balance, for the yin and yang to be re-established. But now, at least, we see the children once more in the streets and we can hear their voices and laughter in the air. They are gentle reminders that all is not lost, that there will be a future. They are our light to help make sense of the darkness. The future is there in front of our eyes, playing with a ball, riding a bike. I just hope that these small children don’t have too large a burden to carry, nor too big of a price to pay.



As December was drawing to a close, we wished each other 20/20 vision for 2020. The new decade was a clean slate, in a way. In January, we started to catch wind of a serious virus in China. It was so far away. Surely, it wouldn’t affect us. In mid-March, Spain went into lockdown, and we realized that, oh yes, it would most definitely affect us.

For those of us who have the luxury of having our basic necessities met and who are not considered an “essential worker,” we have been handed two very special gifts since we’ve gone into lockdown. We have been granted time – time to reflect, time to reassess, time to simply stop and be silent so that we may receive a message – a message that has been there all along but has been drowned out by the constant drone of background noise. And we have been given the opportunity to start over, to wipe the slate clean, to build again. Perhaps we didn’t have our priorities straight the first time around, perhaps we weren’t really fulfilled in our lives, perhaps we were all caught up in a downright futile rat race without even realizing it.

Maybe it will be like when David and I got laid off from our jobs in 2009. The double layoffs allowed us to leave New York City and start a new life in Spain. It gave David the opportunity to pursue his dream of starting his own business and for me to completely learn a whole new skill set as I stepped out from behind the computer (and my previous life of being a staff writer for a magazine) and into my new life behind a bar. In addition to learning how to make mojitos, I learned a lot about myself and my strengths and weakness. And over the last decade, we have had the great fortune to surround ourselves with an amazing community of people.

Unlike the double layoffs when everything came crashing down suddenly and we had to scramble, this time, someone has pushed the pause button, and we hang in limbo. I cherish this time that we are suspended, weightless, knowing that this is my time to reassess before we are dropped back into a world that we might no longer recognize. I know that the calm I feel is a luxury that the many who are fighting for their lives – or the lives of others – just don’t have. I also know that this moment of calm is deceptive as the storm is fast approaching, and I worry about having to switch gears quickly, of having to jump into action abruptly, of having to force the storm head on just as the floods are about to come. Instead of fervently wishing for the lockdown to end as I did in the beginning, I now dread what will happen when it does, when we are no longer fighting for our lives but instead engaged in a new fight for our businesses, for our economy. For the moment, we are gently cradled in uncertainty. What happens when we the safety net snaps, when we are suddenly called to the front line? What if I don’t possess the skills to resurface? It’s OK, I try to reassure myself. It’s OK if we have to rebuild again. We’ve done it before. Maybe we’ll stack the bricks differently this time.

I turn this crisis on its head, and I’m surprised by what I find. I’ve discovered that it has given humanity the opportunity to make a difference by helping others in the form of a thoughtful message, a donation to the Red Cross, buying groceries for a neighbor. It as an opportunity to gather loved ones close, to stay connected even better than before, and to form new friendships. It’s an opportunity to be invited into the living rooms of authors, musicians, actors – to get a private concert from Norah Jones or Andrew Lloyd Weber, to meet Anthony Hopkin’s cat.  It’s an opportunity to indulge in our hobbies and even make a business out of it as my sister has done with her Etsy store, EarthlyGoodGoods. Her online store is a delight for the senses and features soaps made with everything from ocean water to persimmons to (now unpolluted) rain water.

The human species possesses a very special skill: the ability to adapt. Over the centuries, as the world changed around us, we have demonstrated again and again an impressive ability to adjust accordingly – even physically evolve differently – in order to stay relevant. Now, more than ever, our ability to see the big picture, to think outside of the box, to do a 180 degree turn will be what saves us.

My favorite time of day is dusk – that moment when the colors turn pastel, the sea and the horizon blend into one, and the day slowly and softly comes to end. I am always working at this time of the day and very rarely get to see it. Now, day after day, as we stand on our balcony at 8pm to clap, I look around and relish the scene before me.  And I am grateful for the moon that, for the last several nights, has been so full and so beautiful that she has taken my breath away. She is so close. I almost feel like I could reach out and touch her. She helps me to keep everything in perspective.

The weekly telephone call with my parents was previously always limited to Monday evenings. Since Spain is nine hours ahead of California, I would always be starting work just when my parents were waking up, so it was difficult to connect on any other day. Now, we talk every couple of days, comparing notes about the lockdown in Spain versus California. I urge my parents to stay indoors, and I listen to my mom tell me about how she has been working on her breathing in order to strengthen her lungs. My mom is always proactive when it comes to her health, and I admire her for so seamlessly adopting this new exercise into her daily routine as if it was just a new yoga pose. I realize that this is her way of adapting.

I no longer remember the vivid dreams/nightmares that I was having in the beginning of the lockdown. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m adjusting to this new schedule, to this new “norm”. Maybe I’m adapting.

David and I stand on our balcony. We look towards the South and revel in how clear Benidorm’s skyline is. Not just here, but everywhere, the level of pollution is decreasing. The world is looking different, clearer… coming into focus. And so might, too, our lives, when we’ve recovered from all of this. Maybe we’ll move health to the top of the priority list as we understand that, without health, we don’t have anything. Maybe we’ll make more time for people and treasure our connections with others as we come to understand that, when all is said and done, this is what gives definition and meaning to our lives. Maybe we’ll hold on a little closer to our loved ones and instead of casting our elders aside, we’ll appreciate what they’ve lived through in their lifetimes – and what they can teach us in ours.

I sit back and look at the sea stretching in front of me, as far as I can see.

Maybe the year 2020 will be the year we gain 20/20 vision after all.

A Brave New World

The sun rises, the sun sets, and so do we. Gone is the notion of time as we’re so used to, quantified in hours or minutes. We don’t need to consult our cell phone or our watch. What difference does it make if it’s 2pm or 6pm, morning or night?  These days, we sleep when we’re tired, wake up when we’re not. The only notion of a precise time is when we hear clapping outside. Then we know that it must be 8pm. We run to open our balcony doors and step outside, bringing our palms together. And for a few minutes, we clap and listen in collective appreciation. Then we step inside. It will be dark soon and bed time isn’t too far off. I’ve also lost the notion of what day of the week it is. Weekdays blend into weekends. The sun sets and instead of it being the end of Monday and nearing the beginning of Tuesday, it just becomes the end of today and the beginning of tomorrow.

In the beginning, David and I would eat three meals a day. Three meals is normal. It’s what you do. But restricted movement soon diminished my appetite. For the first several days, I continued eating three times a day. It was an automatic reflex and somehow the normalcy of it was comforting.  David would prepare lavish dishes – french toast soaked in honey, pasta with fresh vegetables, a freshly made couscous – and Luisa, my mother-in-law, would bake entire cakes and give them to us since she can’t eat sugar, and we’d sit down to eat, our eyes opening up our appetites even as our stomachs rebelled. But it didn’t  take me long to understand that being on lockdown with a chef and his mom brought with it its own set of dangers. Preparing and eating meals may have helped to keep us busy and given us something to do, but, by the end of the first week of lockdown, we had done away with dinner, and I had kindly put a stop to Luisa’s tasty delights.

I head out to the supermarket, but I no longer head to the herb section to stock up on mint or the fruit section to get limes. I pass the freezer section without even turning my head. I could care less if there’s crushed ice. These days, I don’t go to Mercadona for AlteArte. Instead, I’m shopping for Red Cross and for all of the families that are in need right now. I pile the cart high with canned food, pasta and rice. I am relieved that there’s not too many other people in the aisle. I wouldn’t want them to think that I’m hoarding the food. Next, I head to the cleaning section, happy to find it well stocked. I pull out my phone, and through gloved fingers, pull up the WhatsApp message with the shopping list.  How much do you buy in a crisis like this? I load the cart with dish washing soap, bleach, garbage bags, mops, brushes, cleaning rags. I see Mariano and say a quick hello. Just weeks ago, he performed at AlteArte. Under any other circumstances, we would have given the customary kisses in friendly greeting. I would have asked him how his concert in Madrid went. We would have stopped to chat awhile. Now, we quickly avert our eyes as if we’re afraid that even this distant hello might result in the passing of the virus.  I carefully navigate my overloading cart towards the register. I make sure to not to get too close to anyone and then I start unloading my full cart on to the belt. I pay for the bill with the various donations given to me by a community of caring people in Altea, and then I head straight to the Red Cross to drop it all off. I help the one worker carry all of it to the back room where they have organized things in categories. Everything will be disinfected once I leave.

I don’t go outside except for these Red Cross shopping trips. The rest of the time, I’m cocooned at home. But when I’m out, my throat instantly starts feeling weird, I find myself short of breath, I start sweating with very little physical effort. I feel as though I’m being exposed to a thousand germs even when no one is within sight. It’s my head messing with me. Psychologically, I feel vulnerable and this vulnerability starts expressing itself through physical indications. I get home, close the door firmly behind me, and head to the bathroom. I take off my gloves and wash the outside world off of me.

While sleeping, I live vividly. As if night and day have reversed. The lack of movement during the day now takes place in my dreams instead. This act of dreaming is new for me. In my normal life, I almost never remember my dreams, but now I live out a different adventure every night. Waiting for a bus that never comes, trying on clothes in a rush with my sister since the store is about to close, or, just last night, dreaming that AlteArte was open again and we were so busy that I was overwhelmed. Now, I see the pattern. One constant thread runs through these most unusual dreams: I am always in a situation where I’m racing against time and never in control.

Just like time, the numbers on TV have also lost their relevance. I could kind of understand thousands sick and hundreds dead. In the beginning, I could digest the numbers and calculate how much it had gone up with in the last 24 hours.  But now with numbers as large as nearly 100,000 infected, the number has become abstract, and when the numbers get updated, I can no longer remember the previous number. The difference is by hundreds? By thousands? Oh, I hadn’t realized. Instead, I turn my attention to the numbers in the United States. The thought of the U.S. being the new epicenter – the home of so many of my loved ones – is even scarier than it is to live in what was once the epicenter. The unknown is often scarier than the known. It’s like seeing that a storm is coming. The problem is all of your friends and family are playing outside. Due to mixed messages and misinformation, they haven’t received a clear message about how bad things are going to get.  Watching from afar, I’m powerless to do anything.  “Please stay at home,” I mouth the words to them from across the Atlantic.

We are desperate for information, we devour the news. Measures are being taken, a stimulus plan is being rolled out.  What does it all mean? No one knows for sure, but it will be OK because President Sanchez promised that no one will be left behind. And then we blink our eyes open wide in disbelief when we see that the social security payments have been taken out on the last day of the month. This is the monthly fee that we pay to have the right to do business in Spain. Just like clockwork, it has been deducted from our account. It doesn’t matter that the entire country came to a screeching halt half a month ago, that the virus came at the end of a long winter when there wasn’t much financial padding to begin with. I wish I could find comfort in the predictability of this monthly deduction. Instead, I panic because I can already foresee that there is no safety net and that many, indeed, will be left behind.

I turn to friends on Facebook who are offering the greatest gift of all – themselves, their knowledge. Rachel Rose has been doing live yoga classes every night since the lockdown started. Tania Plahay has been leading meditation classes. I am grateful for the videos and posts that have made me laugh out loud in a way that I haven’t for a long time, for the music that has been shared and makes me feel more intensely than I have in a long time, for the creativity and artistic beauty that has bloomed in our confinement. It is pretty special that we are all on the same page, facing the same worries, feeling the same anxiety, laughing at the same jokes, clapping in appreciation at the same time, living one collective experience. There’s something beautiful about that.

Maybe this is the future. Maybe we’re learning about teamwork and sharing and selflessness.  Maybe the rules are changing. Maybe what’s important is shifting. Maybe money and power will become worthless and a new, much more meaningful, purpose of life will be revealed. Maybe we’ll finally be united as we discover that we’re all on the same team, after all.  Maybe the world is just undergoing a reboot and when we finally emerge, we’ll find ourselves in a brave, new and hopefully better world.

We Make it to 10 Years – just in time!

On February 29th, David and I celebrated 10 years at AlteArte.  It was the event that I had been thinking about – planning for – since the day after our 9th! But, even though it had been on my mind for nearly a year, it wasn’t until I sat down just days before the party to watch the video that David had made that I started understanding the magnitude of the accomplishment. The photos went rushing by – each picture represented a moment captured in time, people who meant so much at different stages, memories that had been filed away to be brought out on a cold winter’s night. The years had gone by in a flash, but, in reality, each year is made up of 365 days and, each day, 24 hours. On nearly every one of those days, we had been physically present, bringing our heart and our sweat and our tears to coax, to grow, to guide AlteArte. The video allowed me to stand back and see what we had built, and what I saw was something so overwhelmingly beautiful that the tears spilled over.

The party was scheduled to start at 9pm, but by the time I arrived at 8:30, the terrace was already full. On that night, we were surrounded by so many wonderful people: people who had contributed to our success in so many different ways over the last decade, people who had flown in from other countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, France and the US) just to be at the party, people who had known AlteArte at different stages of time. What a different place AlteArte was, what different people we were when Maryanne and Mona were customers in our first year! Now they were back. The first time in 10 years, mingling with people who had joined our community within the last eight, the last five, the last week!

The 10th anniversary party had layers. At the core, it was a ceremony to celebrate everyone and really honor those who had significantly contributed to AlteArte. We had a red carpet, a walk of fame, an awards ceremony.  The next layer was a sophisticated party with golden balloons, our elegant friend Marianne going around with trays of hors d’oeuvres and a classy singer setting the mood with her beautiful voice. The final layer was an all out party with a DJ. The upper level turned into a dance floor and we offered a keg of beer for free.

The night was a whirlwind as I tried to greet people, serve people, fill drink orders, give out the awards, and then at 2am, greet the cops when they came. I got lucky. The cop who entered through the main entrance was the one cop who we had always treated us with respect. He looked at me and regretfully told me that we needed to stop the party. I immediately headed outside and up the stairs to tell the DJ that he needed to stop the music, but two other cops had already beat me to it. I let out a sigh as I recognized these cops as the ones who had always been so rude and aggressive whenever they had come in the past. I sighed with relief when I spotted David. And then I looked on curiously as the Spaniards yelled out,  “Come on! They’re celebrating 10 years in business! Go easy on them!” Surprisingly, whether it was because they knew each other or because the plea touched a sympathy nerve, the cops not only had mercy and left but they did it with the tiniest upward curve of a smile. And I felt proud. A party wasn’t successful without a visit by the police. But, more importantly, these cops who had always treated us so condescendingly had for the first time treated us with respect. Perhaps they understood what a decade in business in Altea represented and, in their own way, were silently applauding us for our efforts.

We closed by 3 and headed home by 4am. My sister, the trooper that she is, stayed with us until the very end even though she had just arrived to Madrid from California the morning of our party and had then driven the 4.5 hour drive to Altea with Bree, my college friend, who had come in from Atlanta, Georgia to be at the party. They had arrived just hours before the party, and, as soon as they set foot in AlteArte, I set them both to work finishing the party favors.

Thank goodness that we opened when we did… If ten years ago, we had opened just slightly later, our whole party would have been cancelled, all of that planning would have been for nothing, and we might have never made it to 10 years. As it turned out, on Friday, March 13th, at about 4pm, all bars and restaurants were ordered to close their businesses starting from midnight that night. The announcement came while David and I were having our own debate about whether we should close after the weekend. Being a public place suddenly carried with it a responsibility to be prudent and safe. We had a movie night planned, a workshop just days later. But, if the virus could be so easily spread, then maybe we were actually doing a disservice by organizing gatherings of people! Relieved that the decision was being taken out of our hands, we quickly announced that we would be closed until further notice. The government had stated that businesses would be closed for 15 days, but I doubted that all would return to normal in just two weeks. As the government took severe measures, the attitude shifted. People started to take the virus seriously, understanding that they would need to change their lifestyle, their behavior if we were going to overcome this.

We spent the weekend in shock, trying to wrap our heads around the fact that this was actually happening. We were glued to the TV, desperate to gather information, make sense of our new reality. Then they announced that Monday morning we would be in a lockdown and would only be allowed to leave the house to go to the supermarket and the pharmacy. It felt eery, like we were trapped in a sci-fi movie or a weird dream. Meanwhile, Coral sent me daily messages to get out of Spain, as the borders started to close. But which place was safer? Spain might have an alarming number of cases but at least the government was taking action. Meanwhile, the US was caught in uncertainty as Trump swung back and forth between brushing it off and taking it semi-seriously.

Sunday, we bid a silent adieu to our freedom although the police had already started patrolling and sending people home from Saturday night. It helped that the weather had taken a turn just as the lockdown started. On Monday, and every day this week, the sun has tried to come out but hasn’t had much success. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of consoling us during our confinement.

I am grateful for the roof over my head, for the fact that I am not in wont of food or supplies, for the fact that I have my husband and two cats by my side and my mother-in-law nearby. The knowledge that I am not alone even though I am isolated helps enormously with my emotional state. I think of those who don’t have the same, who don’t have a home to go to.

I am grateful for the community that we have built over 10 years, the group of beautiful, supportive and amazing people, who, as soon as the lockdown went into effect, stayed connected through a WhatsApp group and tried to figure out how to help. Lorna, who set up a shopping trip for those who couldn’t make it themselves or might just need an extra hand. Estelle, who immediately thought of the people who might be in dire situations and not have access to food and set up a collection, raising more than 300 euros within days which will be used to purchase food that will be donated to our local Red Cross. The donors are people who, themselves, are vulnerable to being affected financially as the virus first attacks our health and then sweeps through again to attack us financially, stealing jobs, canceling events, bringing sports events to a standstill.

Life has thrown us a major curve ball, but I am grateful for the fact that David and I have life experience. We already know what it’s like when your whole world gets turned upside down from one day to the next because that’s what happened to us in 2009 when we lost our jobs within the same week while living in New York City.  We’ll get through this as we got through it back then. And, maybe in some crazy way that we can’t foresee, our lives will be better because of it.

We are heart warmed by videos coming out of Italy of people singing on balconies. Every night, in Spain, at 8:00, we go out on our own balconies and applaud the health care workers who are exposed to dangerous conditions yet work tirelessly regardless.  We clap enthusiastically… as we brush tears away. We are moved by this orchestrated effort to show our appreciation but also by this reminder that we are not alone. The streets may be quiet, Altea may appear to be a ghost town, but, behind every door, are people just like us. And every evening we see them – or at least hear them. It is good to make connection if only through open balcony doors and windows and the comforting sound of hands coming together.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Images of Venice’s crystal water canals and the two photos showing the stark difference of Earth before the virus and after have been popping up on Facebook and make one thing clear: Perhaps, this is just Nature’s way of catching a breather. Life is coming to a standstill, but is that really such a bad thing? Maybe we were all running too fast, heading full speed towards our own destruction. Maybe we needed to be stopped in our tracks. Maybe the human race is the pandemic from which Nature has been getting sick and slowly dying. Maybe the Coronavirus is her vaccination after decades of suffering.

Announce to the world a week before this all started that the Coronvirus was going to force whole industries to come to a halt, factories to shut down, people to stop traveling, and we would have scoffed at such a crazy statement, laughing it off and not giving it even a second of our time. It would have been unimaginable. But it is has happened. It is happening.  Anything is possible – including maybe even a permanent change in people’s behaviors after all of this is over so that we can live in harmony once more.

I am so grateful that we had our 10th anniversary party just in time. What a beautiful way to celebrate with friends right before the doors closed and we found ourselves in an indefinite lockdown…


Mesa 2

If a picture says 1,000 words, a painting must say 10,000. Picture, if you will, a painting of a table, four chairs and a cat comfortably sitting on one of the chairs. On the left hand side, you can catch a glimpse of a street in the background. There’s life and movement in the background, yet a peacefulness and serenity around the table, which is the main focus.

We call it Mesa 2 and, every day, for the past year, we have set it up on its own easel outside just across from AlteArte’s entrance – right where the real Table 2 used to stand for six years. And we have watched from inside, unobserved, as people passing by have stopped in front of the painting, mesmerized by the image, taking in all of its details.

Over the past nearly eight years of exhibiting different types of art, it has always been interesting to see how people react to a painting or a photo. It’s visible in their faces, it’s obvious in the time they spend looking. Some people don’t even notice the art all around them when they enter AlteArte while others take the time to slowly climb the three levels to take in all of it. But, unlike the art inside, which is on exhibit, we weren’t setting up Mesa 2 for the artist or for people walking by to see. We were setting it up because we had something to say.

Frustrated with the City’s abrupt decision during the high season last summer to make us remove the two tables that used to be on the street directly in front of AlteArte, David had the idea to immortalize our table, and he asked Javi, our resident artist, to transform a photo that he had taken of the table into a painting. Taken from inside AlteArte looking out, David had taken the photo because of the cat that was so comfortably curled up on the chair. Little did he know that he was actually taking a photo of a table that would, one day, be no more.

Javi got to work on the project and delivered the finished painting months later, and we gasped when we saw it. He had captured the photo beautifully, catching the red glow from the candle on the table and the soft illumination coming from the street lamp on the street behind. The painting was large in size and rich in symbolism. Mesa 2 represented an artistic rebellion and expression. The city’s abrupt decision felt like an attack to our business. For us and all of our regulars for whom that was their preferred table, the painting became our way to declare to the city that they might be able to take away the physical table, but they would never be able to truly take away Mesa 2.

We set up Mesa 2 as a statement to the city, and, over the past year, we’ve gotten a huge response, but it hasn’t come from the neighbors who, surely, have been annoyed by its presence but are powerless to do anything about it or from the city who had launched the attack. It has come from people passing by, people who don’t even know about AlteArte or the significance of the table but who are just visiting Altea. These are people for whom the painting simply speaks to them – to the point that they want to possess it. They enter AlteArte to inquire about the artist and the price.

“The artist is one of the best currently living in Altea,” I am quick to respond as I already know their question.  Half Argentinian, half Spanish, Javier Gomez Quintana has competed in rapid painting competitions throughout Spain, often placing among the top. He painted live for our 5th, 6th and 7th anniversary parties, creating masterpieces in hours and under the pressure of an attentive audience. Having known Javi since our first year with AlteArte, he plays a significant part in our Altea history.

“Regarding the price, though, the painting is not for sale,” I inform them. “Surely it has a price,” they exclaim, sure that they have heard wrong. “Everything has a price.” But even as they hint that they would pay big bucks for this special painting, I only become more adamant. No, there are some things that really don’t have a price. And I share with them the story of the table.

And I give them Javi’s contact information. Consequently, Javi has been commissioned to paint other tables and has even received requests to change the cat so that it is the cat of the person for whom the painting is being painted.

And I realized that, as special as the painting is for us, it’s also special for people who don’t even know AlteArte, who never even saw the real Table 2. The painting simply speaks to them. There’s a special energy in the painting, they say. The painting is almost life-like.

Ironically, the city may have forced us to remove our table, but, now, it is everywhere. It has been reproduced several times over and has been captured in photos countless times by countless people. Using art as a medium, we have successfully spoken to people, we have made them stop in their tracks, we have stirred emotion from deep within, we have made them think.

Through art, Mesa 2 continues to live and play a large role at AlteArte, and we have been able to reach more people and make a more powerful statement than we would ever have been able to – even with 10,000 words.




New York City Minute

“Do you know what a New York minute is?” the restaurant manager asked David condescendingly. Before David could even answer the question, the manager had already sized David up and decided that he was unfit for the job as a waiter in his busy New York City restaurant. It didn’t matter that David had extensive experience working at bustling Parisian brasseries or that he spoke three languages. The manager wasn’t convinced with David. He had made up his mind… in less than a New York minute.

It seemed cruel at the time, but the manager may have been right. That’s how fast-paced is this world. That’s how fast paced is this life. And there’s no slowing it down.

In August, Pepe, our hippy, chess-playing landlord, surprised us when he started ordering non-alcoholic beer. He had gone swimming and, ever since then, had been experiencing pain in his back. The medicine that he was on couldn’t be combined with alcohol – hence the non-alcoholic beer. Weeks passed and the pain didn’t go away. In September, I got a call from Sandra, his wife. Pepe was in the hospital. They had found a tumor. Days later, they diagnosed it as malignant and started chemotherapy. Less than a week later, on September 18th, when he was only 67 years old, he passed away. There had been no time to say goodbye. His departure had happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly.

The news came as a major blow for David and me. Over the years, Pepe had almost become almost a father figure. He had been such an integral part of our time in Altea and with AlteArte. I remember the countless days in the very beginning when we would hear him cursing upstairs as he would play his rapid-fire chess games on the desktop computer that we used to have on the second level. After we removed the computer due to the fact that most people bring their own devices, he would still come in for frequent visits in the afternoon. But, instead of playing chess on the computer, he would pull out a chess board and play a game with Javi, the artist, if he so happened to be there. And if there was no one to play with, he would talk about chess, giving us reports about the latest tournament that he had competed in. One day, he shared with us how he was so lost in thought returning from a tournament that he drove straight into the middle of a roundabout. The car was banged up, but Pepe was fine.

In the beginning, we would share with Pepe the problems that we were having with the building, hopeful that he would offer his help. Having built AlteArte with the help of his son, he knew all of its nooks and crannies, so there was no better person to ask. However, we soon learned that, true to his hippy nature, he would simply dismiss our concerns or make us feel silly for even complaining to him. When we told him about the water damage due to a broken pipe in the street, he quickly trumped our story with his own and proceeded to tell us about how, once, the first floor got so flooded that he had had to drill a hole in the opposite wall to get the water out. Eventually, we stopped telling him about the problems and just took care of them instead. Many an afternoon, he would share stories of his wild past while occasionally requesting a Bob Dylan or Pink Floyd song. And, every Summer, we would joke about meeting up at the beach, though we both knew that it would never happen since he was a true Spaniard and would purposely avoid the sun while I work too much during the high season that I have little time for beach outings. In the last year, he raved about his new granddaughter and shared with me how he wanted to have a special bond with her. Most likely, he couldn’t wait for her to grow up enough so that he could teach her how to play his favorite game. And, in those last several months of his life, he talked to me almost daily about when David and I were going to have kids. And, when I shared with him that we wanted to have kids but divulged that it just wasn’t happening, he pushed me to do something because life is short.

We entered the funeral home as quietly and as respectfully as we could. And, as we took our seats just rows behind Pepe’s wife, son and daughter-in-law, I tried to maintain my composure. But when Hotel California started playing softly through the speakers, it was just so Pepe, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. After about 15 minutes of sitting, his son, Benjamin, stood up and thanked us for coming. And, just like that, it was over. It was not superfluous, over the top, or religious. It was efficient and simple – just as Pepe played chess and just as he would have wanted it. We stayed in the room, waiting to pay our respects, and then we exited the funeral home with Sandra, Benjamin and Amparo, Benjamin’s wife. Amparo’s parents were waiting for them in the parking lot with their granddaughter. And as I saw the group of them all crowded around a stroller, in which cradled the nearly one year old baby girl, the beautiful symbolism of that moment hit me, for it truly represented the circle of life. We had just said goodbye to Pepe, who had lived a short but rich life, and we were all heading to see Sandra, his granddaughter, who had entered this life such a short time ago and who had her whole life ahead of her. Too young still to talk or walk, Pepe’s granddaughter probably won’t have any memories of her grandfather, but she had arrived just in time to give her grandfather countless, precious moments during the last year of his life. And as we all turned our attention to her, I realized that she was our bridge to connect the past with the future. In this moment, her presence alone was giving us the strength to face tomorrow.

When I’m at AlteArte, I feel Pepe’s spirit all around me. He was and is such a strong part of this building – as strong as the wooden beams that hold everything up and provide structure and support to AlteArte. It was he who built it with his son, Benjamin. It was he who used to run it as a bar in the 80s with his wife, Sandra. And his presence embraces and comforts me, and I don’t feel that I have to fully say goodbye just yet.


Recently, while brainstorming ideas for things that we could do at AlteArte, I suddenly thought of Peter Mui. Peter Mui was an entrepreneur who I had had the honor to meet when I interviewed him in person during the time that I lived in New York City and worked for Entrepreneur magazine as a staff writer. I remember my nerves as I rode the elevator up to his office to conduct the interview. And I remember my disbelief as we rode the elevator down together at the end of the interview and he suggested that he, David and I have dinner together. We stayed in contact, and, about a month later, he reached out to me and suggested Per Se. Per Se was arguably one of the nicest restaurants in the city. Owned by chef Thomas Keller, it’s located in the Columbus Center Tower and was a place that we had heard of but would have never dared to go to – that is not until Peter Mui suggested it.

We met Peter in the lobby of the restaurant. He had just flown in from somewhere and had come directly from the airport. When we were seated, the waiter welcomed him warmly. Apparently, he was a regular here. We were never shown a menu. The tasting menu was ordered for us and Peter ordered some of the best wines for each course. Here we were dining in one of the most exclusive restaurants, drinking some of the finest wines, and at a table overlooking one of the most amazing cities in the world, yet Peter had no airs about him. He was down-to-earth and asked us questions. He was engaged and interested in talking to us. The whole meal lasted a couple of hours, yet he seemed fine donating so much of his time to us, which shocked me. For a New York City-based businessman, he almost seemed to be unaware of what a New York City minute was! After our second dessert, Peter invited us to tour the wine cellar and kitchen and then we found ourselves in the lobby once more – without ever seeing a check. We parted ways in the lobby. We would never see Peter again. That was in 2008. When we moved to Spain in 2009, I remembered him and his kindness, and I wrote him an email letting him that know that we were here and inviting him should he ever come to Europe. I didn’t hear back, but I didn’t think much of it. He was a busy man after all.

I might not have ever thought to reach out to him again, but then I had my idea for AlteArte. When I couldn’t find his email in my inbox, I switched to Google. It was on his company’s blog that I found the information that brought so many things home to me. In August, 2009, Peter Mui passed away from sudden heart failure. It was just a year after I met him. It was just around the same time as my last email to him. He was only 56 years old.

My interview with Peter and our subsequent dinner at Per Se are etched into my memory as some of the most precious moments that I lived while in New York City. For a man so important, the time that he gave to us was so valuable. Yet, he did it as if we were the important ones! I feel so grateful that our lives crossed in such a special way, for it would have been so easy to have missed that experience altogether.


In January, while David and I were in California spending time with my parents, we received news about one of our dear friends and one of the most colorful and unforgettable people that I have ever had the good fortune to meet. Daniel was larger than life and had filled AlteArte with his booming voice and contagious laughter ever since he had first come to the bar two and a half years ago. He always showered me with compliments and loudly praised me to others yet was quick to get upset when I tried to speak highly of him in return. He was honest and straightforward, and when he didn’t like the pink hat I wore one day, he made sure to let me know. He was adamant about what films to show at film club. He was real, he was genuine, and, as much as he enjoyed giving all of us a good show, he was unapologetically authentic.

He brought boundless amounts of energy and life to AlteArte and wholeheartedly took on the role of bringing people together. “He or she is a keeper,” he would turn to me, and I would nod my head in approval. Together, we would joke about adopting people, about embracing and welcoming people into our AlteArte family. In reality, I think he was ready to adopt anyone and everyone, for he saw beauty in every person who entered. And he was so intelligent, as he talked to me about books and music and movies – even when I was busy doing a thousand other things.

He lived large, but, at only 41 years old, Daniel passed away in his sleep. His heart had given out. Apparently, he lived too large for even his own body. Sunday, February 26th, was his birthday. He would have turned 42. Friends from Norway had planned to surprise him for his birthday. Instead, they came to remember him. Daniel wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad, so, amidst tears, we celebrated him. And I marveled at all these people who were colorful and beautiful just like him. Even in his passing, he continued to bring people together. And that was beautiful. And just as Daniel would have wanted.

The New York City restaurant manager was right in asking about whether David knew what a New York City minute is because life happens in a flash. But he was wrong about being so quick to size people up. In being so hasty to make a judgement, he most likely has overlooked a lot of great talent. You can’t be in such a rush that you are alive but don’t truly live life. I had the pleasure of spending hours listening to Pepe reminisce about the full life that he had lived. I only spent several hours total with Peter, but I can pretty confidently say that, though his time in years might have been short, he lived his life to the fullest. And I can truly say that my life is richer having known Daniel. He taught me how to live when he was alive, and he continues to teach me how to live. Every moment is precious. Our time on this earth is limited.

Life passes in a New York City minute. It is up to each of us to grab on to that minute and make each and every second count – to live passionately, to give generously, to be different, to reach out to others, to embrace life, to live consciously.


Desperate in Altea

When we first moved to Altea and took over AlteArte, I walked down the picture-perfect, moonlit street on my way home from the business every night and wondered whether any of this was even real. Perhaps I had somehow stumbled onto a movie set, I swooned.  The houses were just so charming, the Lady of the Night plant in front of Anna’s house so fragrant, the cobbled street so European and the way the houses came together to frame the moon hanging between the houses so enchanting that it all felt too perfect to actually be real.

Well, nearly seven years in, I still suspect that it is all just a Hollywood set, but, instead of being the set of a romantic movie as I first thought, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not the new on-site location for Desperate Housewives, the popular American TV series that closely followed the lives of a group of women portrayed who all lived together in the same neigborhood. Some were naive and sweet, others were conniving and manipulative.

Doesn’t make sense?  Let me explain.

The phone calls started this past January. They were anonymous and disturbing and always ended badly. But the worst part was that they weren’t phone calls to us. They were calls to the police complaining about the noise coming from AlteArte. And all I could think was, “What noise?!” Following the celebration of All King’s Day on the 6th, January officially becomes the quietest time of the year in Altea. The parties are over, the pocket books are empty, the tourists are nowhere in sight, and Altea dies down as everyone just tries to recover physically and financially from the holiday festivities. So, needless to say, dealing with complaints from the neighbors was the last thing that I thought I would have to worry about at the start of the new year. Yet, the police were coming night after night. And each time, I glanced at the handful of people in AlteArte and wondered how in the world the noise could have been so bad as to warrant a call to the police. If whoever was calling the police thought that Winter was loud, just wait until the Summer.

And then I wondered who were these neighbors who were calling the cops. We had been here for five years at that point and never before had we received so many police visits due to calls from the neighbors. So what was different? Well, there was a new couple that had moved in to a house just down the street not so long ago. Could it be them? It seemed unlikely since every time I saw them, they were out walking their cute, little, white dog and they would smile and wave. They seemed docile enough and never brought up any problems with the noise. And I hated to assume that it was them just because they were the newcomers.

The problems with the noise soon evolved into problems with the closing time. We had always been under the impression that our license allowed us to stay open until 2:00; however, when the cops started threatening to fine us if we didn’t close at 1:30, we started second guessing our rights and began to close half an hour earlier. The Winter and Spring passed in that way and, soon, we got so used to the frequent visits from the cops that we were more surprised when they didn’t come than when they came. It was our new way of running business. I naively thought that it was just that the police were getting much more strict in Altea. Now, I realize that we were being targeted.

Shortly before high season, we went to the City Hall so that we could find out once and for all when our official closing time was. That half hour that we were losing every evening meant a significant financial loss especially when added up over time and would equate into even more loss in the Summer. The councilman confirmed that we had until 2:00 to close. When I asked what I should do the next time the police came at 1:45 threatening to fine us, he simply said to tell them to review the rules and regulations. Interestingly, the cops haven’t threatened to fine us for our closing hours since that visit to the City Hall, so I’ve never had the pleasure to tell them to get informed about the laws.

Summer came with all of its problems with the terrace. But just when things started to cool down with the city, things started to heat up in the neighborhood. One morning in September, one of our customers emailed saying that he had taken down a paper which had been taped to AlteArte. Apparently, the same paper had been plastered on many local businesses and restaurants in the Old Town. The message was clear, and, just to make it even clearer, it was written in three languages: Valenciano, Spanish, and English.


And with this paper, everything changed. It suddenly became clear that the reduction of terraces was no longer just an official regulation mandated by the city. It was now becoming personal. Yet, it was still anonymous, for the person – or group – who felt strongly enough to to plaster the Old Town with it was too chicken to claim responsibility.

And suddenly we had a mystery on our hands. The person who did this must have put up the notices sometime after 2am (when we closed) and before 6am (when our customer who was walking his dog discovered it),  so, naturally, we started putting together a list of suspects.

Could it be the musician who lived just doors down from AlteArte? He lives alone, never smiles except when he’s proudly leading the local marching band through the he streets of Altea, and has always, at best, just tolerated us since we took over AlteArte. In Year One, he never even looked at us when passing by daily on his way to or from home. In Year Two, we got excited when he started saying a curt, “Hola”. In Year Three, we were so exhilarated when he came to AlteArte with two friends to have a tea that we didn’t even charge him for the bill. In Year Five, when David saw one day that he was coming up the street on his way home, he asked the customers to clear the path, and that’s when the musician said the most that he has ever said. Turning to face David head on, he said menacingly in Valenciano, “Do you want them to close the bar?” Needless to say, we’re glad that he doesn’t speak more often and we’re happy to revert to our Year One status with him. He doesn’t acknowledge us and we don’t acknowledge him. It’s just easier that way.

Could it be the electrician who lives just around the corner? He’s the keyholder of many homes in the neighborhood, taking care of houses for people who don’t live here year round.  Somehow, he has gained the trust of these people, yet he is one of the least trustworthy people I know.

Could it be this newly arrived couple that I mentioned earlier? One is from South America, the other from Australia. The problems with the cops suspiciously seemed to start after they moved into the neighborhood, but maybe that was just a coincidence. Like I said, they had never spoken to us directly about any problem with the noise. But the truth is we didn’t know much about them at all. However, we did see them talking to everyone in the neighborhood, and as we stopped to observe them more, we noticed some disturbing behavior. We started noticing more and more interaction between the couple, the musician and the electrician. In all our years living here, we had never even reached acquaintance level with these neighbors, yet, somehow, apparently, this new expat couple was becoming quite chummy with these Alteans.

Yet, there was no way to prove their involvement with anything – that is not until the scooter incident.

At the end of September, our friend Balazs was preparing for the opening of his photo gallery. He and his wife had bought their house just around the corner from AlteArte, on the same street as the couple, and, interestingly, had moved in at exacly the same time. The gallery had been a dream of Balazs’s since they bought the house, and for a year and a half, they had been preparing the basement and the paperwork to start the gallery. There was only one problem. The entrance of the gallery opens directly out to a parking area, and, whenever a car parks in the spot directly in front, it practically blocks the entrance to the point that it makes the gallery nearly invisible.

Sure enough, while Balazs had been getting the gallery ready for the big opening day, a big car was parking in the spot directly in front of the entrance. Balazs asked David if we could temporarily park our scooter in that spot. Seeing no harm in helping a friend out, David was happy to oblige. It didn’t take long though before the notes started. Taped to the scooter was a paper stating: “Neighbor, Please DON’T park selfishly. The Neighbors”


We took the note off, but it was quickly replaced by another one by the next morning. A few days after that incident, I was walking home from AlteArte when I saw the couple in the parking area. I tried my best to avoid them, but they called after me. “Could you please move your scooter?” Dreading any kind of confrontation with them, I quickly replied that it wasn’t mine. Sure, technically, it was a lie, but the fact that I had never even driven it made it feel somewhat like the truth. They were surprised by my response but got their wits together quick enough to say, “OK. We’ll just call the cops.” Meant to intimidate me, the threat only made me upset. What were they going to do? Have it towed? It was a public parking lot. We weren’t doing anything wrong.

A few days later, David told me that they had seen him driving the scooter so I knew that the fib was up. And, sure enough, shortly after that, while walking again through the parking lot – this time on my way to AlteArte – I paused momentarily to check the scooter from a distance. The notes had made me paranoid that they would damage the bike. As I stood there, I suddenly felt that I was being watched, and as I tilted and turned my head upwards and to the right, I saw the Australian sitting in a corner of his balcony on the second floor of his home watching me. I turned my head back nonchalantly, and, as I gauged what to do next, he stood up and yelled down to me in a booming voice, “You lied to us!”

In the year and a half since he had moved into the neighborhood, this was the very first time that he was showing his true face and not hiding behind the persona that he had so manipulatively created to weasel his way into the neigborhood. And I braced myself for the showdown. “You lied to us about the bike not being yours!” he called. “You’re a liar!” And, as the insults rained down, I seized the opportunity to confront him about constantly calling the cops and never having the decency to come talk to us directly. Finally, here at last was my proof that it had been them all along, and, ironically, while he was calling me a liar, all I could think was that it felt good to have the honesty in the air between us.  Interestingly, he never even mentioned the noise from the bar. Minutes into the confrontation, his South American partner stood up. He had been sitting on the other side of the balcony the whole time but was so hidden that I hadn’t even realized he was there. When the two of them started yelling “Liar” at me like schoolchildren I knew that the confrontation was pointless and decided that I had heard enough. I walked through the arch and out of sight, but when I heard a third voice – the voice of a friend – I stopped to listen. Balazs had heard the whole thing from his living room and was calling out to the neighbors from his balcony to defend me.

The whole incident shook me up so badly that, for days afterwards, I dreaded going to AlteArte. It was as if, by walking through the parking lot and then through the archway to enter the old town, I was entering into a zone of negativity and evilness. And all I could think about was the Australian’s evil grin as he threw his insults at me. All I could feel were eyes watching me. And I wondered how many more enemies we had that we had not yet identified. All around AlteArte, we were surrounded by neighbors who had always seemed to tolerate us, but ever since these neighbors had arrived, the dynamics had shifted. They singlehandedly were turning these never-friendly-but-up-until-now-at-least-tolerant neighbors into enemies who likely had plots to shut down the bar. And I felt with a clear certainty that they were the ones who had personally taken it upon themselves to make sure that the street in front of AlteArte was clear of tables and chairs.

For years, the streets around AlteArte were a little paradise of a neighborhood that was so charming that I originally questioned if all of it was even real. For months, these new neighbors with their cute dog looked so sweet and innocent that I never suspected the problems that they would create. Now, I wonder if Calle Honda is not actually Wisteria Lane and whether these manipulative, evil, conniving people weren’t just written into the script because paradise was getting dull and the viewers needed some drama.

Or maybe I’ve finally seen beyond the surface, beyond the layers, and caught sight of the reality. I always yearned to see beyond the closed doors and into the houses, to get to know the people who lived here. Now, I wish that I could firmly close those doors with a deadbolt and could unsee what I have seen, for our neighborhood certainly looks better when wearing rose-colored glasses.

In My Parents’ Footsteps…

In the 1970’s, my parents owned Farenheit 451, a small bookstore in Laguna Beach, California. They had one child – my brother – and they all lived above the bookstore. They lived a carefree, hippie lifestyle. My dad would run barefoot on the beach every day until his feet bled. He drank raw juice concoctions, and he had a long, scraggly, red beard. They had a myna bird that would wolf whistle at the girls walking by. And their customers were an eclectic bunch, some of whom would come not for the books but to talk to my parents for hours. Life was interesting to say the least, but, two years in, it got even more so.

In 1974, two plain-clothed officers entered the store, purchased a Zap Comix book and then proceeded to arrest my mom who was alone in the store at the time. She was taken down to the police station where she was fingerprinted and treated like a criminal. Pregnant with my sister at the time, they wanted to strip search her, but she refused. Her crime? Selling the satirical, controversial comic books which included sex, drugs and violence – or, in other words, pornography. Their arrest marked the beginning of a two year battle with the city of Laguna Beach.

My parents, detesting censorship, reached out to the local newspapers and the community, and, fortunately, Laguna Beach responded with resounding support. The local newspaper, The Daily Pilot, gave them a voice, printing numerous articles about their case. My parents would plaster the windows of their bookstore with the articles, and when the police ordered them to remove the articles, the newspaper printed a new article about how the police were harassing them. The community attended the city hall meetings and court hearings in droves. And the ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union – took on their case, offering them legal representation for free.

Not backing down, my parents continued to sell Zap Comix in their store and even celebrated the anniversary of their arrest by printing flyers which they put everywhere, including on the police cars. On Halloween day 1976 – after two solid years of fighting – the charges against them were finally dropped. My parents had won the case. They sold the bookstore later that year, left Laguna Beach and moved to a small mountain town called Idyllwild where they both went back to teaching and where, two years later, I was born. Laguna Beach was changing, and many of the liberal hippie types were leaving, including one bus load full headed for Oregon. Inside was a group called Love Animals, Don’t Eat Them and a dentist who wrote “Liberated” across his degree and taped it to the bus.

Their case might have come to a close and Laguna Beach might have officially become a part of their past, but the arrest and subsequent two year legal battle stirred a sleeping giant and awakend a radicalism within my dad. From that point on, he started writing letters to the editors about issues that were close to his heart – first censorship and then the Drug War – and he hasn’t stopped writing since. For my dad’s 70th birthday, my sister compiled many of his letters – including all of them would have been impossible – and put them in a book. The publications in which his letters have been printed range from the Orange County Register to the New York Times and even Time magazine.

But his thoughts weren’t just confined to letters. Throughout my childhood, I listened to my dad talk for hours to anyone who would listen about how we should legalize drugs. I would roll my eyes at his passionate discourse about how the government was trying to take away our freedoms one by one. He was such a starch libertarian and always so radical in his ideas. I could never understand where this undying resistance to government came from. What made him so tirelessly angry that it drove him to attend protests, attend meetings held by libertarian candidates, and constantly make his voice and opinions heard? I could never really understand it and then something happened this year that made me catch a glimpse of the world through his perspective.

Life shapes you and molds you depending on the people you meet and the experiences you have. The person you are born as will inevitably change as life runs its course and you meet people who influence you and you confront challenges that affect you. But, oftentimes, it requires having your own life experience before you can fully understand other people’s battles – even those of the people who are closest to you. This summer has been an eye opener. In 1974, my parents were dragged into a battle. July 31st 2016 marked the beginning of our own.

It was a Sunday evening when two policemen walked through the doors of AlteArte and proceeded to fine me for the terrace tables that we had on the street directly outside. Those tables had been there from the time that AlteArte was created back in 2006. Every year, we applied for a terrace license and every year the city hall approved it. But, recently, there had been a change in government, and the new party had arbitrarily decided that it was time to start applying a 10 year old regulation, a regulation that would significantly reduce many business’s terraces – including our own. We had first received word of the reduction of the terraces in early July, but it seemed so unlikely that they would actually apply it in the middle of the high season that we didn’t pay it much attention. Plus, at the couple of meetings that we had had with the city hall, the mayor and councilman who had put the order in place, weren’t being clear about when it would start being enforced. So, naturally, we decided to continue doing business as usual. After all, removing the tables would mean significant loss since we work primarily with our terrace in the Summer.

However, when the cops wrote us up on July 31st because we had the two tables and eight chairs on that street when we weren’t supposed to have any, we realized that it was most definitely being enforced. The fine ranged between 750 euros and 1500 euros, depending on when we paid it. As far as we know, we were the first to receive a fine for putting out our full terrace. In the weeks that followed, more businesses got fined, one business as much as three times over three consecutive days mounting to a total of 4500 euros. That restaurant finally consented and removed their whole terrace. Another business was severely fined and forced to reduce their tables as well as the big umbrellas that were fixed securely to the ground. The only umbrellas they were allowed were ones that could be removed every night. That would have been fine except the wind can get so strong that it literally uproots the flimsier umbrellas – as we saw ourselves days after they made the switch when we drove by on our scooter and saw the customers desperately holding on to the airborn umbrella. And yet another business got their whole terrace removed. On August 30th, that business closed their doors for good.

The city deciding to make these drastic changes was one thing, but for them to decide to do it literally at the peak of the high season was utterly absurd – and it began to feel disturbingly as though we were under attack by our own city. And the worst part was that they didn’t have any clear or logical reason for doing what they were doing. They claimed that the terraces obstructed passageway and gave a bad image of Altea to the visiting tourists. Seriously?! Lively terraces surely gave a better image than the cops going up and down the street counting all the tables and chairs and talking to the owners of the businesses, which is what they did on two consecutive Fridays at 10pm when the old town was bustling and the businesses were full. They claimed they wanted to keep the quality of tourism high – unlike in Benidorm, the next town over known for its unruly and rowdy tourism. But then why start renting out inflatable ducks and slides? Didn’t that capture the very image of Benidorm?? Why spend tons of money building a beach? Hadn’t Altea been attracting a different type of tourism specifically because we didn’t offer the same as the tourist-ridden beach towns around us?

The meetings with the city hall were futile. The councilman who, apparently, was the one who had started the whole mess was just a baby. According to his Facebook page, he had just graduated from school in 2014. He was present at the first couple of meetings but then conveniently on vacation in August when the business owners were most under attack (and also the angriest), and, at subsequent meetings after that, he conveniently stayed hidden behind the mayor. The mayor was no better. Uninformed of what was happening in his own city, it was up to us, the business owners, to inform him about what was going on. His only response was that, as mayor, he didn’t have the power to put a hold on what was happening. Of course he did! The police had obviously received the orders to regulate the terraces from someone! He also insisted that all the businesses were being treated the same. Then how come some businesses (interestingly, all the foreign-owned ones) were being outright persecuted while others continued to put their full terraces out and apparently hadn’t even received a single fine?

August passed and we limped along as best we could, although we were seriously feeling the loss of our tables and chairs. And just when we were feeling tired and defeated and losing the strength to fight, some of our friends took up the fight for us, leading a sit-in protest. They sat on the stairs of Calle Santo Domingo and held the petition up explaining the situation to the tourists passing by. And they added pages of signatures. Their support at that moment was undescribable. They gave us their strength at a moment when we were lacking our own. It assured us we weren’t alone. It lifted us up in order to keep going even in the face of absurdity.

And we welcomed September with an eagerness unlike any other Summer before. Between the late nights at work, the early morning meetings, the unrelenting intensity of the high season and the draining consequences of being under attack, September couldn’t come fast enough. And when it did, we planned a protest in front of the city hall. And when the mayor was in a meeting, we stormed his office and finally got his attention and secured a date for the next meeting. And at that meeting, he finally gave us enough respect to come prepared, and he laid out a plan over the coming months to have someone come out and measure all the terraces. The battle with the city was far from over, but at least it was finally garnering some results.

And I couldn’t help but compare our experience with my parents’ fight. And, 38 years later, I finally began to understand why my dad had become the way he had. When you don’t know better, you trust the government to have our best interests in mind or, in the very least, to know what they’re doing. You innocently disregard corruption and personal connections, thinking all of that happens elsewhere. You naively believe that everyone plays on the same playing field. The summer had worn down my faith and opened my eyes to how and why things are really done the way they are done. And, for the first time in my life, I understood my parents’ battle with the Laguna Beach police for what it was – not just a story that I had heard retold countless times throughout my life, but a story about an identity-changing experience for my parents, a story about my parents’ courage and resilience in standing up for something that they believe in.

The high season was over, making the terrace reduction less financially painful, and the battle with the city hall was on hold until the next meeting. But just when we started to relax and breathe easier, we found ourselves under attack yet again. But, this time, it wasn’t the city coming after us for our terrace. This time, the enemy was even closer to home and was all around us, watching our every move…

My Altea

On Saturday, February 27th, we celebrated six years with AlteArte. I remember our opening day as if it were yesterday. I close my eyes and vividly recall the anxiety I felt at having to take orders in Spanish and make drinks. I remember hoping that people would come while at the same time praying that they wouldn’t  – or at least not too many anyway.  I remember the relief that washed over me when my classmates from my Spanish class were among the first to walk through the door.

In some ways, it feels not so long ago. In other ways, it feels like a lifetime.

In the last six years, so much has changed – David and I, our relationship, our vision for what’s possible and what we want to accomplish. But we’re not the only ones to have changed. Altea has changed and is in the process of changing even more.

When we arrived in 2009, the church square, home to three major bars – Bar La Plaza, La Mascarada, and Cocoon – would get packed.  Then, on the last day of August two summers ago, Cocoon – which I had considered to be one of the more established businesses in Altea – quietly closed its doors. Since then, a crab restaurant has come and gone and a new restaurant just recently opened – leaving no sign at all of what it used to be. This past winter, even the square has been quiet, and AlteArte has practically been the only place open in the Old Town during the week days.

What happened? About two years ago, Altea was designated a historical site by the European Union. The designation put Altea on the map but came with a price tag. The houses needed to be maintained, the streets needed to be cleaned and the bars had to close on time. So, after four years of closing nearly every day at 4 or 5 in the morning, we were forced to adjust our closing time after a visit from the police two Augusts ago. Our official closing time was actually 1:30, but, for the next two years, we were able to get away with closing at 2 until our neighborhood started changing also. Houses were sold and bought by new neighbors, who, apparently, chose Altea for its tranquility, yet somehow overlooked the fact that there was a bar just at the end of the street. Ever searching for tranquility, the new neighbors started calling the cops on us. As a result, much to my surprise, the police made several visits in January, informing us that the neighbors had been complaining and that AlteArte was officially under surveillance – and would be required to close at the official closing time of 1:30 every day. January is the lowest period of the low season. How ironic that we had closed at 4 or 5 everyday in the first four years, yet it was now that we were getting more heat than ever. How confusing that we’d had much busier nights and never had trouble with the police, yet here we were in January, paranoid every night that we were going to get yet another visit from the cops.

And I found myself getting mad and frustrated at these new neighbors, who, instead of adapting to the neighborhood, were trying to change the neighborhood so that it would adapt to their lifestyles. And then I realized something. Of course Altea is changing. It has and it always will. No city, no place ever stays the same. When David and I first arrived to Altea in 2009, we were the new kids on the block and didn’t know much about Altea. We would listen with amazement as Warner would tell us how Altea used to be the party place and would actually draw people from the surrounding towns, and my eyes would open wide as Peter, our neighbor, recalled how Bar La Plaza would be packed with people almost every night of the week. Just because I can’t imagine Altea or Bar La Plaza being like that now doesn’t erase the fact that they were actually once this way.

Altea has changed and it’s still changing. I’ve noticed change ever since our second year, when I marveled at how quickly the businesses that had opened right before the summer had closed right after it, but, over the past two years, a different kind of change has been taking place. I have been here long enough now that it is no longer simply Altea that is changing, but rather My Altea.

Nearly two years ago, Eugenio Mira, the ceramicist that I so deeply admire, finally decided to slow down and downgraded from the large store exiting out on to Calle Mayor, the main shopping street in the Old Town, to the back of the shop that exits out on to the parallel street – the street that AlteArte is on. He opened his small shop only in the Summer months last year, and he might not be open at all this summer, he tells me as he gives me his card so that we can call him directly when my family comes in May and my sister needs to make her annual purchase of ceramic doves. And it’s a startling thought to realize that, had I arrived to Altea just a bit later, I might never have even known about Eugenio. I would have never had the opportunity to visit what came to be one of the first shops on the Calle Mayor, and I very easily might have missed the chance to meet one of the most inspirational and centered people in Altea who, unknowingly, helped me to find grounding and inner strength at at time in my life that I needed it most.

Had we arrived later, I might have looked with disdain at the abandoned house just across and slightly down the street from AlteArte that, due to its rapidly declining condition, has practically become an eyesore. I could never have imagined that this blemish on the street that tourists now try to angle out of in their photos was actually one of the most photographed houses only two years ago. I might have wondered how a house on such a charming street could be so lifeless, never knowing how full of life it once was – with a bedroom full of books and a facade that overflowed like a waterfall with plants and flowers. I might have wondered who lived there, but I never could have imagined the woman who actually did. Anna had such a grandiose presence and such a theatrical voice that she singlehandedly filled the neighborhood with life, drama and adventure.  Sometimes she would exit from her house barefoot, take a seat at our smallest table, order a glass of white wine and read her book. Sometimes she would tell me about her life which involved several countries and many men, and which, as hard as it was for me to fully grasp for all the things she has done, definitely was not wont of adventure. Sometimes she would call from her balcony, her face all but hidden by her plants, to Karl as he leaned out of the window of the house next door. Their constant banter, and the way that these neigbors would each complain to me about the other made me wonder about their relationship. And then one day Anna fell on one of the steep staircases of her narrow, three story house and was taken to the hospital. Her decline was quick, and, within months, she was moved to a home. And when I saw the impact that her absence had on Karl, I understood that their love/hate relationship actually had more to do with love than hate. And when I saw how the house has declined since she left, I understood it was she who added all the life and it was she who added the soul. And when I saw how the neighborhood has changed since she has been gone, I feel grateful to have arrived in time to meet one of Altea’s most vibrant characters.

My Altea continues to change. Juan Dura, the artist who captured the charm of Altea in his paintings that he would sell from his small shop in the square but who also made me fall in love with Altea during our very first visit to Altea, left his shop and Altea this fall, when, as rumors have it, he fell in love with a woman from Malaga. Had we arrived just years later, I never would have known that there was once an artist who would set up his easel just outside of his shop and paint a perfect picture of the picture perfect setting before him.

And shortly before leaving for California in November to surprise my dad for his 75th birthday, Pepa and Warner came in. We had known Pepa since our first year. She had opened her shop, Artesans, a short time before we arrived to Altea. And, through the years, we watched as she became part of the ebb and flow of Altea’s seasons – as, every spring, she prepared her store for yet another summer – painting the walls, shopping for new merchandise, taking a gamble on what this year’s tourists would spend their money on, and ironing the new clothes hours on end. We saw as she converted her living room into a second room for the store and added second hand merchandise, trying to adjust to the times and appeal to a new type of customer who was spending carefully and buying less.  I knew that Pepa had been struggling to make ends meet, so the announcement that she was moving to the north of Spain to open a store in a ski town that supposedly had two high seasons didn’t surprise me, but it deeply saddened me. Warner would go with her to help her get her new store ready as he had helped her with her store in Altea. So, on October 31st, instead of dressing up in impressive costumes as they had every Halloween previously, they were setting out to set Pepa up with a new life – and a new store. Had we arrived to Altea a little later, I might never have gotten to know Pepa who helped clue us in to all of Altea’s fiestas, who told us about the shooting stars in August, and who has been such a part of our history that she helped us perfect our mojito so that we could  officially became a mojiteria.

And when I returned from California a month later in December, David told me how El Raconet had closed while I was gone. And I was beyond shocked.  The closing of El Raconet signified something grand. It was a bar that had opened about a year after we took over AlteArte. They had entered the scene strong, created a lot of noise, and had quickly become the new popular hangout for the students. Insecure and only in our second year, we couldn’t help but compare ourselves to them, to wonder if they had more customers than we did, if they were open longer or if their parties were better. El Raconet’s arrival made us focus on what we wanted AlteArte to be and tested our focus and dedication to that vision until we were able to move beyond the initial feeling of insecurity. Had we arrived later, we might have missed that era altogether that made us question and define AlteArte’s identity early on.

And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, in November, Sissel moved back to Norway. One of my first friends in Altea and one of our first customers at AlteArte, Sissel had been one of our strongest supporters since the beginning. Altea is a transient place, and I have learned time and time again to say hello and goodbye as people come and go, but Sissel’s departure was one of the first times that I had to say goodbye to someone who had been here longer than I have. My Altea was most certainly changing.

Six years may have passed in the blink of an eye, but, when I step back and look at the big picture, I realize exactly what six years represents.

And finally I can better understand why the old woman across the street from AlteArte was so upset when we added an extra table to our terrace. It had caused such an uproar and literally almost caused a war, and I couldn’t understand how one table could cause such discontentment. Not having been in Altea or Spain long enough, I hadn’t realized that the addition of that extra table prevented her from setting out her chair on the street and sitting there on a countless summer evening watching the people walk by. It was a custom that she had been doing probably for as long as she could remember, yet here we were, newcomers to Altea, disrupting her sacred tradition. For her, us placing the table and filling it every night with customers marked one significant way in which Her Altea had changed.

Altea is constantly changing and will continue to change. Last week, I met a couple who just arrived to Altea. The husband asked if we could meet for coffee as he had questions for me since they have dreams of establishing a business in Altea. And I can’t help but think of when we were just setting out on our own adventure six years ago. And I wonder if we’ll come to represent something significant to this couple just as people like Eugenio Mira, Anna, Juan Dura, Pepa and Sissel and places like El Raconet had come to represent something very significant to us. I wonder if we’ll become a part of Their Altea.

Places mean different things to different people. They are moments captured in a snapshot and comprised of the people, the experiences and the memories of each individual who walked its streets during a certain period in time. No matter how much Paris changes, in my mind, it will forever remain the place that I knew it in 2000 – pre Euro, pre Starbucks when life was affordable and you could walk Paris’s streets without feeling the presence of the U.S. New York City will forever remain the city that I knew it between 2005 and 2009 as a city of dreams and aspirations. When I’ve gone back to Paris in recent years, I’ve been shocked by how expensive the city has become and how the energy has shifted.  If we were ever to visit our old East Harlem neighborhood again, I doubt that I would even recognize it, for it was just on the brink of gentrification when we left in 2009. Places change. They have and they always will. All we can do is enjoy the present moment even if it’s fleeting, make our time meaningful while we’re here and be ready to embrace the change that’s sure to come.


Anna’s house then… it’s the one overflowing with plants and flowers on the left.


Anna’s house now. It’s just a shell of what it once was.


Anna’s house now.

Street Scene

Juan Dura was painting during our very first visit to Altea.

Pepa and Jenny

Pepa (on the left) has been part of our Altea since the beginning.

Ivan and Sissel

Sissel (on the right) has been one of our strongest supporters since the beginning.