During our 10 years together, David and I have moved… a lot. From Paris to California to New York to Chicago back to New York to Torrevieja in Spain and then, just over two years ago, we moved into a village house in Altea that I adored the minute I first saw it. Everything about it felt right, and we eagerly unpacked, certain that this would be our home for a long time to come. But, not even a week later, we were on the move once again after discovering that the landlord wasn’t quite ready to let go of his beloved home. In a hurry, we found an apartment on the edge of the old town. It was spacious, it was light, but it brought tears to my eyes because it was cold and lifeless and didn’t feel like a home. At that time, I felt it was a sign that we weren’t yet ready to be accepted into Altea. We were being shoved on the outskirts where the expats live. And that’s where we stayed – with our belongings shoved in the closet, our frames still in boxes, our books stored away under the stairwell. Unlike the village house, this apartment didn’t inspire. So we slept there but didn’t really live there. We ate there but never really cooked there. It was a place that we rented, but it was never really our home.
Though it wasn’t home, we never bothered to look for a better place. We were tired of moving and, quite frankly, we were too busy with AlteArte to care where we slept. So we stayed there for two years and would have stayed longer if not for Pascual who called David one day to tell us about a house right in front of his own that had just been put for rent. Had it been anyone else who had told us about the house, we probably would have been lackadaisical about the whole thing and stood by as someone else rented the place. But because it was Pascual, we didn’t have any choice but to call.
In his mid-50s, Pascual is one of the personalities that gives Altea its color. Belonging to a family that made its wealth off of shoe factories in Elche before Spain lost its foothold in the shoe industry, Pascual hasn’t worked a day in his life and is determined to keep it that way. So, while we slave away at AlteArte, he often stops by to report to us that he’s off to the sauna. He comes back looking refreshed and vibrant with skin glowing. Normally, he keeps his long curls tucked behind in a ponytail, but, occasionally, he straightens his hair which gives him a flair of elegance and makes it seem almost as if he just stepped out of a dracula novel. He lives a life of Zen in his four story feng shui house that stands high above the others with spectacular views of the Mediterranean. But more noteworthy than his appearance or his house is his personality. He’s an entertainer and life is his stage. Put on just the right type of music and catch him in the right mood, and he’ll perform for you as he has spontaneously done on rare occasions at AlteArte. He closes his eyes and feels the rhythm and starts to move, contorting his body so that his legs are wrapped behind his head one minute and then sprawled out across the floor or lifting his entire body off the ground by holding on to the ceiling shaft the next. And it’s not just through his yoga-like dance moves that he entertains. Talk to him and he’ll carry you swiftly off down one topic and then abruptly shift the conversation with a subtle play on words but it’s all done in such a seamless fashion that you can easily get lost along the way. You can catch up later when he pauses, waiting for a reaction, but, by this time, he knows that you’ve been left behind and he happily laughs at his own joke. In the beginning, my elementary spanish wasn’t good enough to understand these nuances. Now that I’m a bit better at Spanish and have come to know him better, I’m able to follow him on his tangents and detect the soft twinkle in his eye when he’s about to change directions. He’s also the town gossip. He comes by in the afternoons to have a coffee in his own special glass – sometimes while we’re still busy cleaning – and delivers us our daily dose of Altea news. With Pascual in our life, we don’t need to read the local newspaper. With time on his hands, he spends his days going around to all the local businesses, collecting all the local scoops and satisfying his thirst for gossip more than anything else. And he’s always searching – whistling as he looks – for Gala, his 13 year old greyhound who makes her own rounds of the local restaurants in search of food.
So when the house in front of his went up for rent, he wouldn’t drop the subject and urged us to call to visit. And when we relented and did call to make an appointment, he took the phone halfway through the conversation and talked to the owner who he knows personally and sold us to him just as he had sold the house to us. Looking back, I realize that we were puppets and he our puppeteer. He had orchestrated the whole thing partly because he knew the house personally and wanted us to secure it as ours but also because he wanted to ensure that the new people who moved in to the house right in front of his wouldn’t disrupt the perfect life harmony that he had worked so hard to create. We were the perfect candidates. We came home late every night, we weren’t loud, we wouldn’t throw parties. Pascual had thought the whole thing through perfectly. Now, he just had to put the pieces into place.
We visited the house the next day, and as we approached, we could hear Pascual talking. He was already there visiting with the owners. We entered and were greeted by a distinguished woman and an older gentleman whose eyes were kind and gentle. And then we looked around and saw the sea! The living room was lined with windows overlooking the Mediterranean, and the doors to a small balcony stood wide open to let the breeze in. Perched high up, the house offered unobstructed views of Calpe to the left and Benidorm to the right and water stretching to the horizon. Then we saw the kitchen, and I fell in love with the windows – one facing the cobbled village street and another looking out over where the fruits and vegetables market set up every Tuesday. And then we visited the master bedroom just off the living room and I was swept away. With water everywhere I looked, I got the sensation of being in a boat and I was charmed by the thought of living in a boat-like house just steps from AlteArte. But the tour wasn’t over. Just off of the master bedroom was a steep staircase, and we followed it up until we reached a door. Pushing it open, we caught our breath as light flooded in. And we stepped out onto a brilliant terrace with breathtaking views of rooftops and water and life that took place below our feet. And I turned around and had to laugh as I saw the majesty of Pascual’s house looming behind us. We were high up but he was even higher. And I saw the church that had taunted us for two years in our apartment by staying just out of view, blocked by the apartment building next door. Everything was perfect about this little village home… even the noise – or lack thereof. We had grown so used to the constant drone of cars on the main street just outside of our apartment that the pure tranquility of this house perched above the sea was as noticeable as the noise of the cars was in the other. Two days before, we hadn’t even thought about moving, yet here we were ready to take it which would mean moving in 10 days. But the decision was not ours to make. The owners were showing it to others and would be making their decision in the next couple of days.
And so the waiting started. And I tried to keep my anticipation in check for fear of the disappointment that would ensue if the answer was no. But we were put out of our misery a day early when we got a call and were informed that it was… ours! So nearly exactly two years after we had first moved to Altea, we were moving again to a village house that wouldn’t slip through our fingers this time. After getting the keys to our new house, we went to see it once more and we started to notice the smaller details that we hadn’t seen during our first visit. And that’s when we spotted a picture on the wall. It was a picture of an Altean street, but it wasn’t just any street. It was a picture of the street where AlteArte is located, and, upon closer inspection, we could even see AlteArte in the background.
Was it a sign that we finally had arrived to where we belong? If there was any doubt, more signs followed. Shortly after taking over AlteArte in 2010, Jaime, an older gentleman and the former owner of a restaurant called BellaAltea, randomly offered us two framed photos of Altea that showed Altea as it once was 40 some odd years ago when donkeys roamed the streets and everything was much less built up than it is now. One of them was a photo taken of Calle del Sol and Jaime explained that his house was one of the houses in the photo. For two years, we had had these photos on display at AlteArte and we had explained countless times to interested tourists that it was Altea 40 years ago. As it turns out, our village house is on Calle del Sol, just upstairs from Jaime and therefore, it, too, is pictured in the photo that Jaime presented to us nearly two years ago.
Not only have we moved from the outskirts of the old town into the old town, but we have moved to one of the most coveted streets of the old town. Calle del Sol offers some of the most spectacular views and is one of the oldest streets in Altea. And to top it all off, our landlord – the old gentleman with the kind and gentle eyes – used to be the doctor in Altea. In other words, the one doctor who, in old times, used to go around making house calls and was single-handedly in charge of taking care of all of the people in Altea, is now our landlord. All the Alteans of our generation know him because he used to be their doctor.
I wake up to sunlight, I sit up and I can see the sea, I go out to the living room and onto our balcony and I look over Altea’s rooftops and I see the village from a whole new perspective that I had never known before. I see life as it happens on rooftop terraces – people peacefully enjoying their breakfast, others hanging out their laundry, yet others watering their plants. The life that takes place on Altea’s rooftops gives new dimension to life in Altea as a whole.
And I see the flock of painted pigeons fly right in front of me. I had heard of Altea’s painted pigeons, I had even seen them in photographs that my friend, Nadia, had taken, but I had never seen them with my own eyes. Yet, here I see them again and again as they fly by, sporting brilliant colors and landing only briefly on a nearby rooftop before taking off to fly once more.
And our little village house really feels like home. Our books are on the shelves that line the living room, our frames are proudly on display and it’s so cozy to be here that it’s hard to even leave. David cooks more often now and the cats love sleeping on the balcony, each one taking his respective corner.
By moving from the outskirts right into the very heart of Altea, was it a sign that we were being accepted? Had we earned our right after two years in Altea? As we had our housewarming party with some of our closest friends, I had to wonder whether a tourist passing by that night had heard the laughter coming from within our little home and had yearned to join in as I once had when we had first arrived to Altea. All I know is that it feels good to be here. I have gotten to know Altea much better than I did two years ago. I have seen its different shades of color, I have felt its depth, I have gotten a better understanding of its soul.
Perhaps I had to go through that rite of passage before we could take up residence on the Calle del Sol.