On February 27th, 2010, we officially opened the doors of AlteArte. I remember that day well. I remember how anxious I was to see what kind of day it would be. We hadn’t made any fuss over a grand opening, we barely knew anyone in Altea, we hoped that people would come but had no guarantee that they would. To our delight, that first day turned out to be a success as people filed in to unknowingly celebrate a day that we will never forget. I look back at pictures of that first night now and marvel at how those strangers have become our friends.
On February 27th, 2010, we didn’t know what our first day would be like let alone our first year. But this past Saturday, as we celebrated our 1st anniversary, in the company of some of our closest friends, we had the luxury of confidently and knowingly looking back over a year of events, moments, memories and experiences. I never could have imagined a year so rich with meaning. I also never could have predicted all that that first year would teach me. Before AlteArte, I thought that I had a good sense of who I was, I thought that, at 31, my personality was defined. Never could I have imagined all that I still had yet to learn about myself… about David…
It’s hard to see yourself in the eyes of others, but I think that people would describe me as introverted and reserved. I find it intimidating to enter a room of strangers. I’m more often the one to listen, not to talk. So, I suppose in some ways, these adjectives are accurate. However, ever since taking over AlteArte, a new me has taken precedence – a me who unites people, creates community, connects with people, talks to people easily – in both English and Spanish. I bring importance and punctuation to each encounter, I push myself to remember details and names, I make people feel welcome. AlteArte is my stage, and, unconsciously, when I walk through those doors, I switch into a different kind of me – a person who thrives on social interaction. People ask me, “Don’t you get tired of talking to people all day?” But my response is always the same. It’s actually the social aspect, the feeling that friends are coming to visit, the not knowing who’s going to walk in and from what part of the world that fills me with the energy needed to combat the physical aspect of long hours and being on my feet all day. I like the person that I become at AlteArte.
But just as AlteArte has defined customer relations and community building as my strengths, it has also highlighted my weaknesses. I don’t know what to do in an electrical shortage, I’m not strong enough to move heavy objects like the ice machine, I don’t understand how taxes work. And I get frustrated at the telephone company that takes nearly a year to correct our change of address, that tries to charge us for a year of service claiming that we never cancelled our contract from the time we lived in Torrevieja, and that charges us for a phone line at AlteArte that doesn’t work more often that it does. I’m also not a big picture person. I get so caught up in the daily tasks that I’m unable to set bigger goals.
Fortunately, I have a partner who is strong in everything that I’m not. David takes care of all of the above and more. He’s a graphic designer, a plumber, a chef, a bartender, a carpenter, and a computer technician. And he dreams big. He envisions additional lines of revenue and knows how to reach beyond the daily responsibilities to make AlteArte bigger and better.
And miraculously and unexpectedly, AlteArte has defined our strengths – and our weaknesses. And David and I have learned how to work together, and we’ve learned to appreciate what the other brings. After a year, I can confidently and knowingly say that AlteArte wouldn’t be what it has become if it wasn’t for both of us bringing our own special touch. We are each inherently crucial as we each play a fundamental role in making AlteArte AlteArte.
And, at some point during the course of the year, AlteArte ceased to be defined by its history of what it was like before us, of who owned it before us. And it started being our own. AlteArte is no longer about wifi or coffee or drinks. It is about David and me. We have become the faces and the soul of AlteArte.
But that’s not to say that this knowledge and the lessons learned have come easy. Discussions, arguments, explosive moments where each of us wondered if we could continue have painted this year different shades of greens, oranges and flaming reds. We’ve each had to argue our sides. We’ve each had to protect and stand up for what we felt was important. We’ve each had to learn to listen and trust the other. Fortunately, we had years of practice communicating to prepare us for our first year in business. Had we not had that solid base, I doubt we would have been strong enough to survive.
And I’ve learned that the only thing I can really expect is the unexpected. People told us that February would be one of the slowest months business-wise. Yet, it was in February that we enjoyed one of the busiest weekends since we opened. People told us that Spaniards don’t really drink tea. Yet, many times, we’ve had more tea sales than coffee. And before we officially decided to take over AlteArte, someone made the comment that AlteArte only works because Pepe, the owner at the time, is from Altea. After a year in business, we’ve proven that to be untrue. We’ve established ourselves. And we’re not going anywhere.
And for as much time, sweat, work and even tears that we’ve given to AlteArte over the past year, AlteArte has given back. And I never cease to be amazed. Just when I thought I had met everyone, a man walked in two weeks ago. It turns out that he’s originally from California and has lived in Altea for four years. And, best of all, he lives just around the corner from AlteArte. How could it have taken us nearly a year to meet each other??
On Saturday, we celebrated our 1st anniversary Spanish-style with a fiesta. I expected that AlteArte would be packed with only people that we knew. I expected that I would be able to look around the room and name each person. As expected, AlteArte was packed, but, surprisingly, as the people flooded in to the point that they overflowed on to the terrace, there were many people I had never seen before. And while I was glad that so many people had come, I felt a tinge of disappointment. I had wanted our one year anniversary to be a more intimate celebration among our regulars. I had wanted the slideshow of photos that we had created to be seen first by those who had supported us so faithfully over the last year. I had wanted the cake that my friend, Mariann, had made to only be enjoyed by our friends. I had wanted the keg that we were offering for free to be reserved for those who had given us so much over the last year. At first, I was disappointed to see so many faces I didn’t recognize. But I realize now that perhaps it’s a sign that our second year in business will be filled with new people who will soon become new friends.
And perhaps, a year from now, I will look at pictures of our 1st anniversary and recognize everyone in the pictures. I’ll know their names and I’ll be happy that they were there that day to celebrate with us.
Just as I couldn’t have imagined what our first year would be like on our opening day, the events, challenges and lessons that await us in our second year are equally beyond imagination. We may have seen a year full circle, we may have experienced the thrill of seeing tourists a second time around – like the french couple we first met shortly after we opened a year ago and who we just saw again during their annual trip to Altea – we may be familiar now with what each season brings, we may be a bit wiser about the hard work that’s to come this Summer. We may have experienced all of this. But even so, we can’t possibly know what’s to come in Year 2.
As we walked home at 6:30 in the morning on Sunday, the moon was still shining and the sea was breathtakingly still, and the houses of Altea stood elegantly in the foreground. And it didn’t matter what awaited in Year 2, for this picture-perfect setting held me in the present.
And I felt happiness.