In the dead of winter when the streets were empty, the village was quiet, and Altea once more belonged to its residents, Elia Torrecilla, a talented artist studying at the university, confessed that she had been having a hard time finding inspiration for a project that she was working on. One of her teachers had noticed and told her that the most important thing was to keep on moving in order to stimulate ideas in her head.
In Spain, things are coming to a dead halt, with taxes and unemployment numbers the only figures on the rise. And here in Altea, the summer has gotten off to a sluggish start with seemingly fewer tourists and more businesses standing vacant. Other business owners are talking about possibly closing after the Summer because, to put it quite simply, having a store can be more of an expense than an asset these days.
But, like Elia’s teacher said, the secret is to keep moving. So we are. The trick is to be aware of what’s going on around but not to the point that it stops you in your tracks. David forges on his with 1,000 ideas – making AlteArte hats, t-shirts and polos; working on the website; devising big-picture plans for the brand and products that we have created.
And despite the overall slow down, we feel the momentum building when our terrace fills up with our regulars or return customers. Or when a group of nine arrive announcing that we have the best mojitos in Altea – not because they have been to AlteArte before but because they had read about us on some website. Or when two girls come because they got personal recommendations from others. Or when a friend sends a link to a beautiful write-up of AlteArte that she accidentally found online. Word is spreading, people are talking, and, effortlessly, additional business is flowing in.
That’s not to say that it’s easy to not slow down. For, beyond just the normal challenges of the struggling economy, there are many other obstacles in our path, like the neighbors up the stairs from us. Keeping the peace with the neighbors has been a constant struggle and when we’re not at odds with one, we’re at odds with the rest.
This Summer, the battle is, once again, over a table. But, unlike last Summer, when we practically went to war with the neighborhood because we added a table of four down the street, this year, we got a written letter of permission from the store up the stairs from us to put two tables at the entrance to her store. (We couldn’t get a written letter last summer because we were putting the table in front of a declared ruin and couldn’t find the owner to get her permission.) The discontentment was quiet at first. The family of four (the parents in their 70s and two unwed daughters in their late 40s) simply stopped greeting us in the street, despite the fact that, for nearly three years, we have been carrying their groceries up the stairs, assisting the mother when her daughters or husband weren’t available, and buying their lemons at a whopping 7 euros a bag, an outlandish price especially when everyone else is giving them away – including Maria, the cousin who lives just up the stairs and whose lemons must come from the same trees. When the table didn’t move, one of the daughters went to complain to the store owners who had given their permission. When still nothing changed, they took more drastic measures like watering their plants on their balcony but also, accidentally or most likely not, watering the people – our customers – below. Things escalated when, just a couple of weeks ago, they threatened a group with children who were seated at the table that they were going to call the police. Never mind that it was midnight on a Friday when all the restaurants’ terraces were still full and it was hardly quiet out. Until then, they had never spoken about the table directly to us, and we decided it was best to stay out of it. But when Olallah, one of our customers who works with one of the daughters at the post office, explained to David that, for nearly her whole life, she had been sitting outside of the entrance watching the people go by and, now with our table there, she couldn’t quite sit so comfortably, it shed some light on why they would put up such a fight over that table and not the table just a few steps below. So, as a peace offering, David took up an iced tea so that she could at least have a drink while she sat on her chair watching the world go by. However, the peace offering was downright rejected and caused an uproar which has left things more tense than ever.
And when it’s not the neighbors, it’s some freakish electricity problem that causes us, and several of the surrounding stores and restaurants, to lose our power. That happened two nights ago – a Saturday night right at dinner time on the first day of the high, high season.
But, despite these obstacles, we keep on moving. So, despite the disgruntled neighbors, we keep our table there, but remove it earlier than the others in an attempt to show that we respect them but we also have a business to run. And when the power goes out, we light the candles, get to work washing the dishes by hand and try to continue going on as if nothing has happened even though we can barely see what we’re doing.
For the worst thing is to stand frozen and not do anything, to let the world and life pass us by without taking action. By paying attention to her body and physcially moving, Elia was able to get her creativity flowing. Likewise for us – thanks to David’s clear direction – we have constantly been acting, putting forth energy, launching new product lines, introducing new mojito flavors and looking ahead.
And, by moving, we have created our own kind of momentum which has helped drive us forward even when Spain is slowing down.