When we arrived to Altea three years ago, I presumptuously believed that I had already learned most of what there is to know about life, about myself, about David. I had gone away to University to challenge myself to personal growth. I had lived in some of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities – Paris and New York. I had met influential people and leaders. So when Warner told me shortly after I arrived that Altea is the University of Life, I stared at him blankly, not comprehending how a small village could teach me more about Life than the world’s most dynamic cities. David and I were the worldly ones, I thought. We were the ones coming with fresh and innovative New York ideas. We were the ones bringing knowledge to teach. And I would have written off his statement as simply inaccurate and then, most likely, would have proceeded to forget about it all together except that there was something so odd about it that it stayed with me. Then, on January 1, 2013, it suddenly became crystal clear as if the new year brought new clarity. For so long, I had been looking at Altea from the outside in. The key was to be able to look at it from the inside out. It took me a long time to get to that point. But, after years of learning, seemingly I had finally arrived.
Nestled along the Mediterranean, Altea is tucked away from all the noise – the noise created by big brands launching new products, bright billboards announcing new television shows, and traffic jams of everyone trying to get to… somewhere else. My occasional trips back and forth to New York and California make the quietness of Altea even more pronounced. It is in this village where the sea stretches like a blanket to the horizon, where sometimes the only sound is the water gently hitting the rocks, and where the scene from my window is like a painting save for the occasional seagull passing by that I have been able to focus on what’s really important and not get distracted by what isn’t. In this environment, I have been able to learn.
It’s in this village that we see the same people sometimes every day. Pascual passes by in the afternoon for his coffee. Karim stops by for a beer. Fran comes by after he finishes work at the restaurant just down the street. And then there are those who come less frequently but who have been there since the very beginning. People like Warner, Pepa and Nadia can, in a glance, detect how we’re doing – whether our energy is up, if we’re having a bad day, if we need a break. This constant contact with people in Altea is so different from life in New York or California where we might have known a lot of people but we didn’t really know most people.
The upside is that my relationships have become more authentic. I have been there in the precise moment when a friend found out that she was pregnant. I have been there in a moment of pain when another friend’s boyfriend broke up with her after more than a decade together. And I have witnessed the struggles of a good person who’s trying to do things the right way but first has to overcome a whole heap of obstacles.
The (possible) downside is that, because these relationships are not built and maintained on the surface level but go much deeper, they serve as our mirrors – and in their reflection, we have occasionally spotted things about ourselves that we simply would rather not see. In Altea, we can’t afford to have too many off days. It is a village, after all, so our actions reverberate. When the group of more than 20 people show up at the door after closing hours, we have to explain that we’re closed – but in a nice way, because, here, you could potentially offend someone if you don’t let them in – even if it’s 3, 4 or 5 in the morning. When the guys who have obviously been drinking too much ask for more, we need to know how to cut them off in a stern but discreet way. Inexperienced in the beginning, we didn’t quite do it with finesse the first time around and it resulted in the customer who had had too much to drink slamming down a bar stool in defiance. Obviously, he needed to be cut off, but the problem is that he was from Altea and who knows how misconstrued the story became later when shared with others who weren’t present. And when the routine gets to us or the long days wear us out or we’re stressed, we can never reveal it to our customers, even if they are some of our closest friends. Should we slip up and go too far – which has happened – our customers, our friends, are our mirrors. You can’t hide from a mirror. You can’t hide from your own reflection.
But it’s in this setting surrounded by these people that I have been able to grow. Altea and AlteArte have pushed me to reach for new horizons, and I feel more complete, more whole, more alive. The human interaction fulfills me. The message from a friend in Slovenia telling me how AlteArte made a difference in her life enriches and adds meaning to my own. And the person that I would become each time I stepped behind the bar fascinated me. In the beginning, I assimilated it to being on stage, that I was performing – not purposely, not consciously, but in any case I wasn’t entirely me. My AlteArte personality was outgoing, able to put others at ease, able to make conversation in three languages! But, over the last nearly three years, the distinction has faded, and I have evolved into that very person who used to dazzle me with her courage.
It’s also in this setting that I have come to see David in a whole different light and understand him on a whole different scale. It’s one thing to be married to someone and have different jobs. It’s another thing to basically share the same life with someone while building the same thing. I’ve seen him create beauty with his hands and realized how much of an artist he truly is. I’ve seen him crank out ideas non stop and realized how much he has really needed a creative outlet. I’ve seen how hard working and devoted he can be to the current project on hand. I’ve seen the friends that he’s made and appreciated how devoted they are to him. But I’ve also seen how he loses his temper when he gets stressed, how he doesn’t always deal with a delicate situation well, and how a storm cloud can overtake him at a moment’s notice. On January 1, 2013, I suddenly opened my eyes. But it required a whole village serving as my mirror for me to look fully and unflinchingly in its reflection.
Warner told me about Altea being the University of Life, and I didn’t understand in that moment what he meant. But now I do. I don’t think I’ve ever been so pushed out of my comfort zone, have had so much human interaction, learned so much about myself and others, and been made so aware of strengths and weaknesses as I have since living in Altea. It’s when you can see Altea from the inside out and when you can open your eyes and finally see the truth that you finally start scraping the surface of this thing called, “Life.”