Our landlord is a hippie. With a long beard and a laid back, laissez faire attitude, he’s more than happy to go back in time over a beer at AlteArte. With a grin on his lips and a light in his eye, he relives his days of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Now in his 70s, he often travels locally to compete in quick, less than five minute chess games with some of the best, but he once was the one pouring the drinks and turning up the music at El Corral, the tri level bar that was the first pit stop in “La Ruta del Bakalou,” an infamous route of techno music and drugs that started in the 80’s and stretched from Altea to Valencia. High on drugs and life, people would depart from El Corral at 2:00 am and stop at different bars along the way, not arriving at the final destination in Valencia until 11:00 am. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, some wouldn’t make it to that last stop, losing their lives somewhere along the curvy road that hugs the Mediterranean. La Ruta del Bakalou came to an end in the mid 90’s. What brought about its demise? Pepe shrugs. It was just the trend of the people at that moment in time, he says matter-of-factly. The people changed and so did the trends.
Fast forward several decades to March 1st when we celebrated our fourth anniversary and excitedly opened the doors to ArteAltea, a light and open space much more suitable for exhibiting art. The store just next door to AlteArte had become vacant in October, and Pepe approached us about taking it. Cautious to not be too hasty in our decisions, we gave it careful thought and considered what we wanted for the future and for AlteArte. And we realized that it was an opportunity that might not come around again anytime soon. So, for the next two months behind closed doors so that no one could see, David, with the help of a construction worker and an electrician, set to work painting, installing professional lighting and cabling for the art, and furnishing it modestly but just comfortable enough so as to provide extra seating. And, just as he had done years previously with AlteArte, he molded it and transformed it and created a space that was beautiful and inspiring. And, in the last week before our 4th anniversary party, he added the window and the door and united AlteArte with ArteAltea, making it hard to imagine that, at one time, they had ever been separate.
We had spent so much time planning and plotting and through it all trying to keep everything a secret, but, little did we know that we were in store for some big surprises ourselves. Two days before the big party, on a quiet afternoon, Pascual walked by – as he often does – and motioned to me that there were customers outside. Grabbing the menu and rushing outside in fear that they had been sitting there for a while, I stopped dead in my tracks and my heart skipped a beat as my brain tried to register what my eyes were seeing. There, in front of me, within touching, were my mom and my sister who had traveled from California just to be there for the party. And as the realization set in, the emotions came pouring out. For, as important as the approaching day was, I had never, ever expected my family to make such a long journey just to attend, and it touched me deeply that they had made such an effort to be there. But, barely had we gotten our heads around that surprise when, the very next day, in walked another – David’s mom. She had flown in from Paris just to be with us. And, on the actual day, Sissel, one of my first friends in Altea who filled AlteArte with all of her friends on our very first day and who is like my Norwegian mom in Spain, made the final surprise, having flown in from Norway just for the weekend. Already, the day was memorable before it had even started!
Our anniversary kicked off with an art opening by Hans Peter Fjugstad, a Norwegian artist and a loyal customer who we had chosen to inaugurate the space. Juan Rivera, a well-known, local DJ transitioned the art opening into a party while Antonio, a professional balloon artist who has an amazing ability to make flowers, animals and just about anything imaginable from a simple balloon, added just the right touch to make the evening fun and original.
And people flowed through the three levels and onto the street outside, including Geir and his group of 20 friends who had traveled all the way from Norway for the party. And the whole space was alive with energy and excitement and celebration.
At first glance, those old enough to remember might have looked at this once again tri-level business and been reminded of the days of El Corral when Pepe and his wife, Sandra, got fines for having 100 people in the street and eventually got shut down by the city, but, upon closer inspection, they would have seen that what we were creating was something entirely different. The times had changed and so had the people and the trends.
And with ArteAltea finished and officially open, what David had envisioned and created triggered my own ideas and inspirations for the potential of this new space. And I began to dream bigger and think larger. AlteArte hadn’t been the most conducive for activities or events. But, now with this new space that was joined yet independent from AlteArte, suddenly the possibilities seemed limitless. And, in the months following the opening, I busied myself with researching local talent because there’s nothing more beautiful than living in a place like Altea and having the type of business where we can showcase that talent.
And I organized a local author event and poetry reading and acoustic music for Sunday afternoons. We also organized creative workshops like how to make tie dyed t-shirts. It went over so well that one of the attendees showed up a week later, telling us how she had so much fun tie-dying that she had tie-dyed everything white that was in her wardrobe! And we got articles in the local papers and the dynamics changed.
And when Eugenio Mira, a movie director who is the son of Eugenio Mira, the ceramist who I admire so much and wrote about, was not only willing but excited to carry out my idea of organizing a screening of his recently released movie, Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood, with him in attendance for a Q&A afterwards, I was humbled and proud at what we were accomplishing. Mira had done screenings around the world but this would be the first in his hometown and we had the honor of hosting it.
We had effectively transitioned into being a place that showcased talent, created memorable moments and brought people together. And what started out as just a local, off-the-beaten-path bar, was becoming a destination on the map. And I hoped that, through these efforts, we were making a positive impact and adding to the beauty of Altea. And just like Pepe and Sandra made history with El Corral in the 80s, perhaps one day, decades from now, people might talk about David and me and the impression that AlteArte and ArteAltea had on Altea.
But the future is the future and some things are too hard to predict. So, for the time-being, I travel back in time with Pepe – whenever he chooses to take me. At his request, I play I Can’t Get No Satisfaction by Rolling Stones, and we both get lost in our own thoughts. We are at different stages in life and have very different pasts, but the song speaks to both of us and unites us in the present.