The only constant in life is change. I’ve been reminded of this over and over until I’ve almost gotten used to it and nearly been able to embrace it. For change is good. Even when life becomes deliciously comfortable, change is necessary. And, in Altea, as much as time seems to be both standing still and speeding by, change is the glue that holds everything together.
Altea has been changing ever since we arrived more than two years ago. A transient place, I learned early on that people are constantly coming and going from this coastal village. Relationships are formed, connections are made over three months or six months but invariably there’s always an end, for many of the new arrivals never plan to stay. They come to study or work for a pre-determined period of time, so saying goodbye simply comes with the territory – the beginning always comes with the ending in sight. And somehow you get used to having to say goodbye and you learn to focus, instead, on the fact that, suddenly, you have friends spread out all over Europe – Norway, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Slovenia! And you hope that, one day, they might come back for a visit… like Brady, an American who added color and humor to our very first Summer. It’s been a year and a half since we saw him, but, on Sunday, he walked through the doors and David and I did a doubletake as we each tried to make sense of the apparition that stood before us. Like photos, people transport us back to different points in time and Brady instantly took me back to the Summer of 2010 when everything was brand new at AlteArte and we were still trying to get our bearings and we were battling with the machines and unsure of what each new day would bring.
But because we now know to expect it, saying goodbye has become monumentally easier than when I had to say one of my very first goodbyes to Daria, the very first student who held an exhibition at AlteArte. When Daria walked out of the doors of AlteArte, I couldn’t keep the tears back because saying goodbye was still new to me. And because Daria signified so much. She represented our beginning at AlteArte. That moment stands frozen in time.
Once I got used to saying goodbye, I better understood the importance of saying hello. I realized that an important aspect of AlteArte would be a constant reaching out to new people who walked through our doors. In other words, the effort that I expected to have to make especially in the beginning would need to be an ongoing effort every day that we were in business. And so the days have passed, and I have done my best to make a conscious effort to remember names, talk to people, leave a lasting impression just as I did in the beginning.
But in the last two months, finding the energy to do this has become more challenging because, in 2012, the goodbyes have been of a different nature. As difficult as it has been, we’ve come to expect to say goodbye to Altea’s new arrivals. What we didn’t expect we would have to do is say goodbye to the people who are from Altea or who have lived in Altea for years and have made up our Altea since we arrived. But as the economy in Spain has severely worsened, Altea is being touched. And a common thought seems to be on the forefront of many people’s minds: to go where the opportunities are. And, certainly right now, Spain with its startling unemployment numbers especially among the youth, certainly doesn’t offer anything too promising at the moment.
So, in January, we said goodbye to Maya who is German but who has lived in Spain for the majority of her life. Maya was there from the beginning of our adventure in Altea but finally left to pursue her own when she went to live in Germany. We said goobye to Sam who lived in Spain for 8 years before deciding last month to move back to England, where he’s originally from, to work in a startup company. Sam, who would come to AlteArte to share his latest business idea or tell me about the latest website he had built, was always full of ideas but had no way to execute them, and, therefore, was going stir crazy in Altea. We said goodbye to Karim who is half Moroccan, half Spanish and who decided to return to Morocco after more than a decade of living in Altea because he could work as a tour guide there, something that he was finding it difficult to do here. Karim who we had seen nearly every day for at least a year. We said goodbye to Neus who’s originally from Altea but after struggling to find opportunities here, left for China to teach English for a year. And we said goodbye to Carlos who, after a long history in Altea, was struggling through an especially difficult Winter with no work and no money and finally returned to be near his family in Toledo.
And soon we will have to say goodbye to Nadia who’s waiting impatiently for Sam to find an apartment so that she can join him in England. Nadia who we’ve known since our second day in business when she came in with Warner and who has filled AlteArte with delicious cupcakes just when we were most in need and dance moves that energize all who are lucky enough to find themselves in her radius. And we’re mentally preparing ourselves to possibly have to soon say goodbye to Paul and Jenny who, after living in Altea for the last couple of years, are seriously thinking of returning to England because of the lack of work here. Paul and Jenny who we’ve known long enough to see life happen to them and who have shared special moments at AlteArte.
This random tossup and displacement of people was to be expected. After all, it’s what happened to David and me after we lost our jobs in New York in March 2009. We, too, went in search of opportunities and somehow left the US and ended up in Spain. It’s just what happens in a recession. And I’m the first one to encourage people to search out the opportunities – even if it means leaving Altea. For life is much bigger than Altea. But I’m realizing that, in some ways, it’s easier to be the one moving forward than the one staying behind. As people leave and we face the prospect of many others leaving, David and I have been forced to come to terms with these hard facts. These are the faces that have made up our Altea and, over the last month, a feeling of emptiness has overtaken us as Karim, who arrived like clockwork at the same time every day, is now nowhere to be seen and Maya no longer comes for shots of Blue Vodka and Sam only comes back to us in a memory when we play one of his favorite songs. And David and I have both struggled to keep up our morale. For they weren’t just our regulars who breathed life into AlteArte but our friends.
But as Warner, who is struggling just as we are, reminds me, Altea is a place that people always return to. Perhaps it will be a while before they come back – and perhaps they’ll never come back to live – but they’ll visit. And they’ll bring with them AlteArte as it was when they were here. And, just like a photo, they’ll bring back feelings and memories that only they can conjure up. Just as Brady did the second he walked through the door.
And, in the meantime, time marches on, and I just have to remind myself that new people are always arriving to Altea. And I need to keep putting forth the energy to meet new people. Already, I have met new people in my Spanish class which I started taking again in January. Of course, they don’t come close to replacing the people who have made up our Altea, but they’re an essential way to bridge the past with the future and keep the tides of change moving in the right direction. For the only real constant is change.