I grew up in a village. Located in the mountains East of Los Angeles, Idyllwild was an idyllic place to spend my childhood. I starred as the Ugly Duckling in the town play, competed for cakes in the cakewalks at the town festivals and celebrated my birthdays bobbing for apples and hunting for peanuts in the forest of trees surrounding my house. Surrounded by familiar faces in a town where everyone knew everyone, I was raised in innocence and able to fully treasure and cherish my days of childhood. When I was 12, my dad found a new teaching job in Santa Barbara and we left Idyllwild before the smallness of the town could become a bad thing and before the forests that were our playgrounds lost their magic and left idle minds susceptible to alternative forms of entertainment. Consequently, Idyllwild, for me, remains a place of innocence, clean of impurities and the best way to describe a perfect childhood.
Altea is a village. Much like the mountain village in California where I grew up, everyone knows everyone, everyone’s neighbors with everyone, and changes don’t happen without everyone knowing about it – sometimes before it has even happened.
Coming from the outside to take over AlteArte meant that we were crossing many invisible barriers. It was easy enough to rent an apartment and physically move to Altea. It was another thing to open a business here and, ultimately, be accepted into the community. For, even though many outsiders including Norwegians, Dutch and English have settled here, it doesn’t change the fact that many of the people who run businesses in Altea’s old town have grown up in Altea. They know the majority of the village, having played with them on the playground, by somehow being related to them or having worked in some capacity with them. The connections between people are intricate yet crucial, and coming from the outside meant that we had absolutely none of that when we arrived. Entering on these terms certainly put us at a disadvantage yet we had one big thing going for us: we were taking over as the third owners of AlteArte, meaning that two owners came before us. And it was just by a stroke of good luck that the two previous owners were from Altea and had made a name for the business within Altea’s circle of locals. So when we opened the doors on February 27th 2010, people came, perhaps not for us but at least for AlteArte. Over the last year and a half, we’ve kept some, lost some, and made new customers.
Over the past year and a half, the signs of acceptance have come in many forms. Acceptance came in the form of lots of helping hands like when we were organizing a party for Carnaval. Making posters and buying decorations for AlteArte was one thing but coming up with something to wear was a whole other obstacle – and especially daunting for someone like me who might be able to find creativity in words but falters when it comes to imagining up a costume using articles from one’s wardrobe. Fortunately, after mentioning my dilemma to Pepa the day before our big party, she instantly made a plan for me to come by her shop early the next day. With the help of a few more friends and lots of imagination, we tried on tops, bottoms and wigs until we found the perfect combination. And it didn’t stop there. Pepa even came to AlteArte before the party got started to do my hair and put on my makeup. That night, I was a hit. And it’s all thanks to Pepa who lent me her time, skill and imagination on a day that I needed it most.
Support and acceptance also came flooding in when David had to go to Paris unexpectedly when a close family friend lost a long battle with lung cancer. The funeral was to be held on a Saturday meaning that I would be alone for the weekend. We arranged for a friend to help me behind the bar, but it was the assistance that came from our regulars, our friends, that I hadn’t quite planned on. I collected many numbers that weekend – from friends who, upon finding out that David was gone, reassured me that they were only a phone call away should I need anything. And when the ultimate test came at 3:00 am on Friday night and I had to change the keg, I reviewed my scribbled notes on “How to Change the Keg” and then ran upstairs to the stock room to try it out. In my haste to do it quickly, I must have incorrectly disconnected the hose because, all of a sudden, gas was spewing out, quickly freezing the top of the new keg and making it impossible to insert the hose. Running to get help, a task that should have been routine turned into a multi-person effort as it was quickly determined among the crowd who had the most expertise at actually changing the keg, not just drinking the beer that was in it. Perhaps it was highly unprofessional and should be a faux pas best left unmentioned, but, in that minute, when everyone was trying to sober up to fix the problem and not outright laughing at me in a drunken stupor, I felt a wave of gratitude for these people who had accepted me – the obviously foreign, far-from-knowledgeable-about-alcohol girl – in to their village and who were pulling together to help me survive my first weekend alone.
But, unlike my childhood village which remains captured in my memory as idyllically perfect, now in my adult life, I have found village life to have its own faults. Being located on a residential street largely adds to AlteArte’s charm, but it has largely contributed to the recent problems that we’ve had as well. When we added an extra table to our terrace just two steps down, we never imagined that it would cause such an uproar in the neighborhood. At first, the reaction was silent. But, two weeks later, the silent rumblings reached an audible level when one of the neighbors informed us that many people were quite upset. Having never intended or wished to declare war, we removed the table and, by doing so, restored peace… albeit only momentarily.
Our Summer party on June 21st couldn’t have gone over better with the customers. People were dancing to the live music and filled every inch inside and outside of AlteArte. But it couldn’t have caused a bigger scandal in the neighborhood. At 1:00 in the morning, the cops arrived. Had the neighbors called? Yes, and they wouldn’t stop calling, said the cops. And when we arrived to work the next day, the displeasure was tangible. One neighbor came to complain, another informed us that everyone was filing complaints at the police station and yet another shot me a half disgusted/half upset look and was going to disappear into her house until I approached her to apologize. And perhaps it was my overactive imagination – but most likely not – that made me believe that the whole neighborhood was talking about us behind closed doors, over telephone lines, and behind our backs. And, that day, I just felt deflated. Apparently, it hadn’t mattered that, for a year and a half, we had closed our terrace to get everyone inside by 2 am, had changed the clientele to avoid having students partying in the streets with their barking dogs, had done our best to show that we wanted to enhance the neighborhood, had changed the glass in the windows to keep the noise in, and had even supplied internet to our neighbors free of charge. Instead, what mattered is that we had had live music one night that kept the neighbors from sleeping. (Ironically, the entire weekend that followed our Summer party, the village celebrated Sant Joan with music in the square that was so loud that we could hear it clearly at AlteArte at 4 am and fireworks that went off at 8 am announcing a new day of festivities.) All this was difficult enough to deal with but when a rumor started among the neighbors that people were dealing at AlteArte, it all became a bit too much to handle.
The politics of village life is more complicated than I remember it as a child. I don’t remember the gossip or the hurtful rumors. Instead, I remember the overnight slumber parties at friends’ houses and playing in my tree house with my sister. But I suppose that my innocent memories of Idyllwild has more to do with my personal innocence than with the village. And Altea is still a little paradise but with more layers of depth than I first spotted when I saw only the exterior beauty but didn’t know what lay beneath. Sure, our recent challenges of keeping peace with the neighbors have jaded us slightly as we try to define our role within the community but the joys of knowing people on a deeper level come largely thanks to the fact that Altea is a village.
And, regardless of whether it’s the village coming together to help or trying to patch things over with the neighbors, the fact that we’re even having these kinds of interactions means that we’ve become part of Altea’s community. And, slowly but surely, we’re weaving ourselves into Altea’s complicated, intricate patchwork of life and relations. For better and for worse, we’re becoming a part of this village.