On February 29th, David and I celebrated 10 years at AlteArte. It was the event that I had been thinking about – planning for – since the day after our 9th! But, even though it had been on my mind for nearly a year, it wasn’t until I sat down just days before the party to watch the video that David had made that I started understanding the magnitude of the accomplishment. The photos went rushing by – each picture represented a moment captured in time, people who meant so much at different stages, memories that had been filed away to be brought out on a cold winter’s night. The years had gone by in a flash, but, in reality, each year is made up of 365 days and, each day, 24 hours. On nearly every one of those days, we had been physically present, bringing our heart and our sweat and our tears to coax, to grow, to guide AlteArte. The video allowed me to stand back and see what we had built, and what I saw was something so overwhelmingly beautiful that the tears spilled over.
The party was scheduled to start at 9pm, but by the time I arrived at 8:30, the terrace was already full. On that night, we were surrounded by so many wonderful people: people who had contributed to our success in so many different ways over the last decade, people who had flown in from other countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, France and the US) just to be at the party, people who had known AlteArte at different stages of time. What a different place AlteArte was, what different people we were when Maryanne and Mona were customers in our first year! Now they were back. The first time in 10 years, mingling with people who had joined our community within the last eight, the last five, the last week!
The 10th anniversary party had layers. At the core, it was a ceremony to celebrate everyone and really honor those who had significantly contributed to AlteArte. We had a red carpet, a walk of fame, an awards ceremony. The next layer was a sophisticated party with golden balloons, our elegant friend Marianne going around with trays of hors d’oeuvres and a classy singer setting the mood with her beautiful voice. The final layer was an all out party with a DJ. The upper level turned into a dance floor and we offered a keg of beer for free.
The night was a whirlwind as I tried to greet people, serve people, fill drink orders, give out the awards, and then at 2am, greet the cops when they came. I got lucky. The cop who entered through the main entrance was the one cop who we had always treated us with respect. He looked at me and regretfully told me that we needed to stop the party. I immediately headed outside and up the stairs to tell the DJ that he needed to stop the music, but two other cops had already beat me to it. I let out a sigh as I recognized these cops as the ones who had always been so rude and aggressive whenever they had come in the past. I sighed with relief when I spotted David. And then I looked on curiously as the Spaniards yelled out, “Come on! They’re celebrating 10 years in business! Go easy on them!” Surprisingly, whether it was because they knew each other or because the plea touched a sympathy nerve, the cops not only had mercy and left but they did it with the tiniest upward curve of a smile. And I felt proud. A party wasn’t successful without a visit by the police. But, more importantly, these cops who had always treated us so condescendingly had for the first time treated us with respect. Perhaps they understood what a decade in business in Altea represented and, in their own way, were silently applauding us for our efforts.
We closed by 3 and headed home by 4am. My sister, the trooper that she is, stayed with us until the very end even though she had just arrived to Madrid from California the morning of our party and had then driven the 4.5 hour drive to Altea with Bree, my college friend, who had come in from Atlanta, Georgia to be at the party. They had arrived just hours before the party, and, as soon as they set foot in AlteArte, I set them both to work finishing the party favors.
Thank goodness that we opened when we did… If ten years ago, we had opened just slightly later, our whole party would have been cancelled, all of that planning would have been for nothing, and we might have never made it to 10 years. As it turned out, on Friday, March 13th, at about 4pm, all bars and restaurants were ordered to close their businesses starting from midnight that night. The announcement came while David and I were having our own debate about whether we should close after the weekend. Being a public place suddenly carried with it a responsibility to be prudent and safe. We had a movie night planned, a workshop just days later. But, if the virus could be so easily spread, then maybe we were actually doing a disservice by organizing gatherings of people! Relieved that the decision was being taken out of our hands, we quickly announced that we would be closed until further notice. The government had stated that businesses would be closed for 15 days, but I doubted that all would return to normal in just two weeks. As the government took severe measures, the attitude shifted. People started to take the virus seriously, understanding that they would need to change their lifestyle, their behavior if we were going to overcome this.
We spent the weekend in shock, trying to wrap our heads around the fact that this was actually happening. We were glued to the TV, desperate to gather information, make sense of our new reality. Then they announced that Monday morning we would be in a lockdown and would only be allowed to leave the house to go to the supermarket and the pharmacy. It felt eery, like we were trapped in a sci-fi movie or a weird dream. Meanwhile, Coral sent me daily messages to get out of Spain, as the borders started to close. But which place was safer? Spain might have an alarming number of cases but at least the government was taking action. Meanwhile, the US was caught in uncertainty as Trump swung back and forth between brushing it off and taking it semi-seriously.
Sunday, we bid a silent adieu to our freedom although the police had already started patrolling and sending people home from Saturday night. It helped that the weather had taken a turn just as the lockdown started. On Monday, and every day this week, the sun has tried to come out but hasn’t had much success. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of consoling us during our confinement.
I am grateful for the roof over my head, for the fact that I am not in wont of food or supplies, for the fact that I have my husband and two cats by my side and my mother-in-law nearby. The knowledge that I am not alone even though I am isolated helps enormously with my emotional state. I think of those who don’t have the same, who don’t have a home to go to.
I am grateful for the community that we have built over 10 years, the group of beautiful, supportive and amazing people, who, as soon as the lockdown went into effect, stayed connected through a WhatsApp group and tried to figure out how to help. Lorna, who set up a shopping trip for those who couldn’t make it themselves or might just need an extra hand. Estelle, who immediately thought of the people who might be in dire situations and not have access to food and set up a collection, raising more than 300 euros within days which will be used to purchase food that will be donated to our local Red Cross. The donors are people who, themselves, are vulnerable to being affected financially as the virus first attacks our health and then sweeps through again to attack us financially, stealing jobs, canceling events, bringing sports events to a standstill.
Life has thrown us a major curve ball, but I am grateful for the fact that David and I have life experience. We already know what it’s like when your whole world gets turned upside down from one day to the next because that’s what happened to us in 2009 when we lost our jobs within the same week while living in New York City. We’ll get through this as we got through it back then. And, maybe in some crazy way that we can’t foresee, our lives will be better because of it.
We are heart warmed by videos coming out of Italy of people singing on balconies. Every night, in Spain, at 8:00, we go out on our own balconies and applaud the health care workers who are exposed to dangerous conditions yet work tirelessly regardless. We clap enthusiastically… as we brush tears away. We are moved by this orchestrated effort to show our appreciation but also by this reminder that we are not alone. The streets may be quiet, Altea may appear to be a ghost town, but, behind every door, are people just like us. And every evening we see them – or at least hear them. It is good to make connection if only through open balcony doors and windows and the comforting sound of hands coming together.
Every cloud has a silver lining. Images of Venice’s crystal water canals and the two photos showing the stark difference of Earth before the virus and after have been popping up on Facebook and make one thing clear: Perhaps, this is just Nature’s way of catching a breather. Life is coming to a standstill, but is that really such a bad thing? Maybe we were all running too fast, heading full speed towards our own destruction. Maybe we needed to be stopped in our tracks. Maybe the human race is the pandemic from which Nature has been getting sick and slowly dying. Maybe the Coronavirus is her vaccination after decades of suffering.
Announce to the world a week before this all started that the Coronvirus was going to force whole industries to come to a halt, factories to shut down, people to stop traveling, and we would have scoffed at such a crazy statement, laughing it off and not giving it even a second of our time. It would have been unimaginable. But it is has happened. It is happening. Anything is possible – including maybe even a permanent change in people’s behaviors after all of this is over so that we can live in harmony once more.
I am so grateful that we had our 10th anniversary party just in time. What a beautiful way to celebrate with friends right before the doors closed and we found ourselves in an indefinite lockdown…