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Mesa 2

If a picture says 1,000 words, a painting must say 10,000. Picture, if you will, a painting of a table, four chairs and a cat comfortably sitting on one of the chairs. On the left hand side, you can catch a glimpse of a street in the background. There’s life and movement in the background, yet a peacefulness and serenity around the table, which is the main focus.

We call it Mesa 2 and, every day, for the past year, we have set it up on its own easel outside just across from AlteArte’s entrance – right where the real Table 2 used to stand for six years. And we have watched from inside, unobserved, as people passing by have stopped in front of the painting, mesmerized by the image, taking in all of its details.

Over the past nearly eight years of exhibiting different types of art, it has always been interesting to see how people react to a painting or a photo. It’s visible in their faces, it’s obvious in the time they spend looking. Some people don’t even notice the art all around them when they enter AlteArte while others take the time to slowly climb the three levels to take in all of it. But, unlike the art inside, which is on exhibit, we weren’t setting up Mesa 2 for the artist or for people walking by to see. We were setting it up because we had something to say.

Frustrated with the City’s abrupt decision during the high season last summer to make us remove the two tables that used to be on the street directly in front of AlteArte, David had the idea to immortalize our table, and he asked Javi, our resident artist, to transform a photo that he had taken of the table into a painting. Taken from inside AlteArte looking out, David had taken the photo because of the cat that was so comfortably curled up on the chair. Little did he know that he was actually taking a photo of a table that would, one day, be no more.

Javi got to work on the project and delivered the finished painting months later, and we gasped when we saw it. He had captured the photo beautifully, catching the red glow from the candle on the table and the soft illumination coming from the street lamp on the street behind. The painting was large in size and rich in symbolism. Mesa 2 represented an artistic rebellion and expression. The city’s abrupt decision felt like an attack to our business. For us and all of our regulars for whom that was their preferred table, the painting became our way to declare to the city that they might be able to take away the physical table, but they would never be able to truly take away Mesa 2.

We set up Mesa 2 as a statement to the city, and, over the past year, we’ve gotten a huge response, but it hasn’t come from the neighbors who, surely, have been annoyed by its presence but are powerless to do anything about it or from the city who had launched the attack. It has come from people passing by, people who don’t even know about AlteArte or the significance of the table but who are just visiting Altea. These are people for whom the painting simply speaks to them – to the point that they want to possess it. They enter AlteArte to inquire about the artist and the price.

“The artist is one of the best currently living in Altea,” I am quick to respond as I already know their question.  Half Argentinian, half Spanish, Javier Gomez Quintana has competed in rapid painting competitions throughout Spain, often placing among the top. He painted live for our 5th, 6th and 7th anniversary parties, creating masterpieces in hours and under the pressure of an attentive audience. Having known Javi since our first year with AlteArte, he plays a significant part in our Altea history.

“Regarding the price, though, the painting is not for sale,” I inform them. “Surely it has a price,” they exclaim, sure that they have heard wrong. “Everything has a price.” But even as they hint that they would pay big bucks for this special painting, I only become more adamant. No, there are some things that really don’t have a price. And I share with them the story of the table.

And I give them Javi’s contact information. Consequently, Javi has been commissioned to paint other tables and has even received requests to change the cat so that it is the cat of the person for whom the painting is being painted.

And I realized that, as special as the painting is for us, it’s also special for people who don’t even know AlteArte, who never even saw the real Table 2. The painting simply speaks to them. There’s a special energy in the painting, they say. The painting is almost life-like.

Ironically, the city may have forced us to remove our table, but, now, it is everywhere. It has been reproduced several times over and has been captured in photos countless times by countless people. Using art as a medium, we have successfully spoken to people, we have made them stop in their tracks, we have stirred emotion from deep within, we have made them think.

Through art, Mesa 2 continues to live and play a large role at AlteArte, and we have been able to reach more people and make a more powerful statement than we would ever have been able to – even with 10,000 words.

 

 

 

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New York City Minute

“Do you know what a New York minute is?” the restaurant manager asked David condescendingly. Before David could even answer the question, the manager had already sized David up and decided that he was unfit for the job as a waiter in his busy New York City restaurant. It didn’t matter that David had extensive experience working at bustling Parisian brasseries or that he spoke three languages. The manager wasn’t convinced with David. He had made up his mind… in less than a New York minute.

It seemed cruel at the time, but the manager may have been right. That’s how fast-paced is this world. That’s how fast paced is this life. And there’s no slowing it down.

In August, Pepe, our hippy, chess-playing landlord, surprised us when he started ordering non-alcoholic beer. He had gone swimming and, ever since then, had been experiencing pain in his back. The medicine that he was on couldn’t be combined with alcohol – hence the non-alcoholic beer. Weeks passed and the pain didn’t go away. In September, I got a call from Sandra, his wife. Pepe was in the hospital. They had found a tumor. Days later, they diagnosed it as malignant and started chemotherapy. Less than a week later, on September 18th, when he was only 67 years old, he passed away. There had been no time to say goodbye. His departure had happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly.

The news came as a major blow for David and me. Over the years, Pepe had almost become almost a father figure. He had been such an integral part of our time in Altea and with AlteArte. I remember the countless days in the very beginning when we would hear him cursing upstairs as he would play his rapid-fire chess games on the desktop computer that we used to have on the second level. After we removed the computer due to the fact that most people bring their own devices, he would still come in for frequent visits in the afternoon. But, instead of playing chess on the computer, he would pull out a chess board and play a game with Javi, the artist, if he so happened to be there. And if there was no one to play with, he would talk about chess, giving us reports about the latest tournament that he had competed in. One day, he shared with us how he was so lost in thought returning from a tournament that he drove straight into the middle of a roundabout. The car was banged up, but Pepe was fine.

In the beginning, we would share with Pepe the problems that we were having with the building, hopeful that he would offer his help. Having built AlteArte with the help of his son, he knew all of its nooks and crannies, so there was no better person to ask. However, we soon learned that, true to his hippy nature, he would simply dismiss our concerns or make us feel silly for even complaining to him. When we told him about the water damage due to a broken pipe in the street, he quickly trumped our story with his own and proceeded to tell us about how, once, the first floor got so flooded that he had had to drill a hole in the opposite wall to get the water out. Eventually, we stopped telling him about the problems and just took care of them instead. Many an afternoon, he would share stories of his wild past while occasionally requesting a Bob Dylan or Pink Floyd song. And, every Summer, we would joke about meeting up at the beach, though we both knew that it would never happen since he was a true Spaniard and would purposely avoid the sun while I work too much during the high season that I have little time for beach outings. In the last year, he raved about his new granddaughter and shared with me how he wanted to have a special bond with her. Most likely, he couldn’t wait for her to grow up enough so that he could teach her how to play his favorite game. And, in those last several months of his life, he talked to me almost daily about when David and I were going to have kids. And, when I shared with him that we wanted to have kids but divulged that it just wasn’t happening, he pushed me to do something because life is short.

We entered the funeral home as quietly and as respectfully as we could. And, as we took our seats just rows behind Pepe’s wife, son and daughter-in-law, I tried to maintain my composure. But when Hotel California started playing softly through the speakers, it was just so Pepe, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. After about 15 minutes of sitting, his son, Benjamin, stood up and thanked us for coming. And, just like that, it was over. It was not superfluous, over the top, or religious. It was efficient and simple – just as Pepe played chess and just as he would have wanted it. We stayed in the room, waiting to pay our respects, and then we exited the funeral home with Sandra, Benjamin and Amparo, Benjamin’s wife. Amparo’s parents were waiting for them in the parking lot with their granddaughter. And as I saw the group of them all crowded around a stroller, in which cradled the nearly one year old baby girl, the beautiful symbolism of that moment hit me, for it truly represented the circle of life. We had just said goodbye to Pepe, who had lived a short but rich life, and we were all heading to see Sandra, his granddaughter, who had entered this life such a short time ago and who had her whole life ahead of her. Too young still to talk or walk, Pepe’s granddaughter probably won’t have any memories of her grandfather, but she had arrived just in time to give her grandfather countless, precious moments during the last year of his life. And as we all turned our attention to her, I realized that she was our bridge to connect the past with the future. In this moment, her presence alone was giving us the strength to face tomorrow.

When I’m at AlteArte, I feel Pepe’s spirit all around me. He was and is such a strong part of this building – as strong as the wooden beams that hold everything up and provide structure and support to AlteArte. It was he who built it with his son, Benjamin. It was he who used to run it as a bar in the 80s with his wife, Sandra. And his presence embraces and comforts me, and I don’t feel that I have to fully say goodbye just yet.

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Recently, while brainstorming ideas for things that we could do at AlteArte, I suddenly thought of Peter Mui. Peter Mui was an entrepreneur who I had had the honor to meet when I interviewed him in person during the time that I lived in New York City and worked for Entrepreneur magazine as a staff writer. I remember my nerves as I rode the elevator up to his office to conduct the interview. And I remember my disbelief as we rode the elevator down together at the end of the interview and he suggested that he, David and I have dinner together. We stayed in contact, and, about a month later, he reached out to me and suggested Per Se. Per Se was arguably one of the nicest restaurants in the city. Owned by chef Thomas Keller, it’s located in the Columbus Center Tower and was a place that we had heard of but would have never dared to go to – that is not until Peter Mui suggested it.

We met Peter in the lobby of the restaurant. He had just flown in from somewhere and had come directly from the airport. When we were seated, the waiter welcomed him warmly. Apparently, he was a regular here. We were never shown a menu. The tasting menu was ordered for us and Peter ordered some of the best wines for each course. Here we were dining in one of the most exclusive restaurants, drinking some of the finest wines, and at a table overlooking one of the most amazing cities in the world, yet Peter had no airs about him. He was down-to-earth and asked us questions. He was engaged and interested in talking to us. The whole meal lasted a couple of hours, yet he seemed fine donating so much of his time to us, which shocked me. For a New York City-based businessman, he almost seemed to be unaware of what a New York City minute was! After our second dessert, Peter invited us to tour the wine cellar and kitchen and then we found ourselves in the lobby once more – without ever seeing a check. We parted ways in the lobby. We would never see Peter again. That was in 2008. When we moved to Spain in 2009, I remembered him and his kindness, and I wrote him an email letting him that know that we were here and inviting him should he ever come to Europe. I didn’t hear back, but I didn’t think much of it. He was a busy man after all.

I might not have ever thought to reach out to him again, but then I had my idea for AlteArte. When I couldn’t find his email in my inbox, I switched to Google. It was on his company’s blog that I found the information that brought so many things home to me. In August, 2009, Peter Mui passed away from sudden heart failure. It was just a year after I met him. It was just around the same time as my last email to him. He was only 56 years old.

My interview with Peter and our subsequent dinner at Per Se are etched into my memory as some of the most precious moments that I lived while in New York City. For a man so important, the time that he gave to us was so valuable. Yet, he did it as if we were the important ones! I feel so grateful that our lives crossed in such a special way, for it would have been so easy to have missed that experience altogether.

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In January, while David and I were in California spending time with my parents, we received news about one of our dear friends and one of the most colorful and unforgettable people that I have ever had the good fortune to meet. Daniel was larger than life and had filled AlteArte with his booming voice and contagious laughter ever since he had first come to the bar two and a half years ago. He always showered me with compliments and loudly praised me to others yet was quick to get upset when I tried to speak highly of him in return. He was honest and straightforward, and when he didn’t like the pink hat I wore one day, he made sure to let me know. He was adamant about what films to show at film club. He was real, he was genuine, and, as much as he enjoyed giving all of us a good show, he was unapologetically authentic.

He brought boundless amounts of energy and life to AlteArte and wholeheartedly took on the role of bringing people together. “He or she is a keeper,” he would turn to me, and I would nod my head in approval. Together, we would joke about adopting people, about embracing and welcoming people into our AlteArte family. In reality, I think he was ready to adopt anyone and everyone, for he saw beauty in every person who entered. And he was so intelligent, as he talked to me about books and music and movies – even when I was busy doing a thousand other things.

He lived large, but, at only 41 years old, Daniel passed away in his sleep. His heart had given out. Apparently, he lived too large for even his own body. Sunday, February 26th, was his birthday. He would have turned 42. Friends from Norway had planned to surprise him for his birthday. Instead, they came to remember him. Daniel wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad, so, amidst tears, we celebrated him. And I marveled at all these people who were colorful and beautiful just like him. Even in his passing, he continued to bring people together. And that was beautiful. And just as Daniel would have wanted.

The New York City restaurant manager was right in asking about whether David knew what a New York City minute is because life happens in a flash. But he was wrong about being so quick to size people up. In being so hasty to make a judgement, he most likely has overlooked a lot of great talent. You can’t be in such a rush that you are alive but don’t truly live life. I had the pleasure of spending hours listening to Pepe reminisce about the full life that he had lived. I only spent several hours total with Peter, but I can pretty confidently say that, though his time in years might have been short, he lived his life to the fullest. And I can truly say that my life is richer having known Daniel. He taught me how to live when he was alive, and he continues to teach me how to live. Every moment is precious. Our time on this earth is limited.

Life passes in a New York City minute. It is up to each of us to grab on to that minute and make each and every second count – to live passionately, to give generously, to be different, to reach out to others, to embrace life, to live consciously.

 

Desperate in Altea

When we first moved to Altea and took over AlteArte, I walked down the picture-perfect, moonlit street on my way home from the business every night and wondered whether any of this was even real. Perhaps I had somehow stumbled onto a movie set, I swooned.  The houses were just so charming, the Lady of the Night plant in front of Anna’s house so fragrant, the cobbled street so European and the way the houses came together to frame the moon hanging between the houses so enchanting that it all felt too perfect to actually be real.

Well, nearly seven years in, I still suspect that it is all just a Hollywood set, but, instead of being the set of a romantic movie as I first thought, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not the new on-site location for Desperate Housewives, the popular American TV series that closely followed the lives of a group of women portrayed who all lived together in the same neigborhood. Some were naive and sweet, others were conniving and manipulative.

Doesn’t make sense?  Let me explain.

The phone calls started this past January. They were anonymous and disturbing and always ended badly. But the worst part was that they weren’t phone calls to us. They were calls to the police complaining about the noise coming from AlteArte. And all I could think was, “What noise?!” Following the celebration of All King’s Day on the 6th, January officially becomes the quietest time of the year in Altea. The parties are over, the pocket books are empty, the tourists are nowhere in sight, and Altea dies down as everyone just tries to recover physically and financially from the holiday festivities. So, needless to say, dealing with complaints from the neighbors was the last thing that I thought I would have to worry about at the start of the new year. Yet, the police were coming night after night. And each time, I glanced at the handful of people in AlteArte and wondered how in the world the noise could have been so bad as to warrant a call to the police. If whoever was calling the police thought that Winter was loud, just wait until the Summer.

And then I wondered who were these neighbors who were calling the cops. We had been here for five years at that point and never before had we received so many police visits due to calls from the neighbors. So what was different? Well, there was a new couple that had moved in to a house just down the street not so long ago. Could it be them? It seemed unlikely since every time I saw them, they were out walking their cute, little, white dog and they would smile and wave. They seemed docile enough and never brought up any problems with the noise. And I hated to assume that it was them just because they were the newcomers.

The problems with the noise soon evolved into problems with the closing time. We had always been under the impression that our license allowed us to stay open until 2:00; however, when the cops started threatening to fine us if we didn’t close at 1:30, we started second guessing our rights and began to close half an hour earlier. The Winter and Spring passed in that way and, soon, we got so used to the frequent visits from the cops that we were more surprised when they didn’t come than when they came. It was our new way of running business. I naively thought that it was just that the police were getting much more strict in Altea. Now, I realize that we were being targeted.

Shortly before high season, we went to the City Hall so that we could find out once and for all when our official closing time was. That half hour that we were losing every evening meant a significant financial loss especially when added up over time and would equate into even more loss in the Summer. The councilman confirmed that we had until 2:00 to close. When I asked what I should do the next time the police came at 1:45 threatening to fine us, he simply said to tell them to review the rules and regulations. Interestingly, the cops haven’t threatened to fine us for our closing hours since that visit to the City Hall, so I’ve never had the pleasure to tell them to get informed about the laws.

Summer came with all of its problems with the terrace. But just when things started to cool down with the city, things started to heat up in the neighborhood. One morning in September, one of our customers emailed saying that he had taken down a paper which had been taped to AlteArte. Apparently, the same paper had been plastered on many local businesses and restaurants in the Old Town. The message was clear, and, just to make it even clearer, it was written in three languages: Valenciano, Spanish, and English.

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And with this paper, everything changed. It suddenly became clear that the reduction of terraces was no longer just an official regulation mandated by the city. It was now becoming personal. Yet, it was still anonymous, for the person – or group – who felt strongly enough to to plaster the Old Town with it was too chicken to claim responsibility.

And suddenly we had a mystery on our hands. The person who did this must have put up the notices sometime after 2am (when we closed) and before 6am (when our customer who was walking his dog discovered it),  so, naturally, we started putting together a list of suspects.

Could it be the musician who lived just doors down from AlteArte? He lives alone, never smiles except when he’s proudly leading the local marching band through the he streets of Altea, and has always, at best, just tolerated us since we took over AlteArte. In Year One, he never even looked at us when passing by daily on his way to or from home. In Year Two, we got excited when he started saying a curt, “Hola”. In Year Three, we were so exhilarated when he came to AlteArte with two friends to have a tea that we didn’t even charge him for the bill. In Year Five, when David saw one day that he was coming up the street on his way home, he asked the customers to clear the path, and that’s when the musician said the most that he has ever said. Turning to face David head on, he said menacingly in Valenciano, “Do you want them to close the bar?” Needless to say, we’re glad that he doesn’t speak more often and we’re happy to revert to our Year One status with him. He doesn’t acknowledge us and we don’t acknowledge him. It’s just easier that way.

Could it be the electrician who lives just around the corner? He’s the keyholder of many homes in the neighborhood, taking care of houses for people who don’t live here year round.  Somehow, he has gained the trust of these people, yet he is one of the least trustworthy people I know.

Could it be this newly arrived couple that I mentioned earlier? One is from South America, the other from Australia. The problems with the cops suspiciously seemed to start after they moved into the neighborhood, but maybe that was just a coincidence. Like I said, they had never spoken to us directly about any problem with the noise. But the truth is we didn’t know much about them at all. However, we did see them talking to everyone in the neighborhood, and as we stopped to observe them more, we noticed some disturbing behavior. We started noticing more and more interaction between the couple, the musician and the electrician. In all our years living here, we had never even reached acquaintance level with these neighbors, yet, somehow, apparently, this new expat couple was becoming quite chummy with these Alteans.

Yet, there was no way to prove their involvement with anything – that is not until the scooter incident.

At the end of September, our friend Balazs was preparing for the opening of his photo gallery. He and his wife had bought their house just around the corner from AlteArte, on the same street as the couple, and, interestingly, had moved in at exacly the same time. The gallery had been a dream of Balazs’s since they bought the house, and for a year and a half, they had been preparing the basement and the paperwork to start the gallery. There was only one problem. The entrance of the gallery opens directly out to a parking area, and, whenever a car parks in the spot directly in front, it practically blocks the entrance to the point that it makes the gallery nearly invisible.

Sure enough, while Balazs had been getting the gallery ready for the big opening day, a big car was parking in the spot directly in front of the entrance. Balazs asked David if we could temporarily park our scooter in that spot. Seeing no harm in helping a friend out, David was happy to oblige. It didn’t take long though before the notes started. Taped to the scooter was a paper stating: “Neighbor, Please DON’T park selfishly. The Neighbors”

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We took the note off, but it was quickly replaced by another one by the next morning. A few days after that incident, I was walking home from AlteArte when I saw the couple in the parking area. I tried my best to avoid them, but they called after me. “Could you please move your scooter?” Dreading any kind of confrontation with them, I quickly replied that it wasn’t mine. Sure, technically, it was a lie, but the fact that I had never even driven it made it feel somewhat like the truth. They were surprised by my response but got their wits together quick enough to say, “OK. We’ll just call the cops.” Meant to intimidate me, the threat only made me upset. What were they going to do? Have it towed? It was a public parking lot. We weren’t doing anything wrong.

A few days later, David told me that they had seen him driving the scooter so I knew that the fib was up. And, sure enough, shortly after that, while walking again through the parking lot – this time on my way to AlteArte – I paused momentarily to check the scooter from a distance. The notes had made me paranoid that they would damage the bike. As I stood there, I suddenly felt that I was being watched, and as I tilted and turned my head upwards and to the right, I saw the Australian sitting in a corner of his balcony on the second floor of his home watching me. I turned my head back nonchalantly, and, as I gauged what to do next, he stood up and yelled down to me in a booming voice, “You lied to us!”

In the year and a half since he had moved into the neighborhood, this was the very first time that he was showing his true face and not hiding behind the persona that he had so manipulatively created to weasel his way into the neigborhood. And I braced myself for the showdown. “You lied to us about the bike not being yours!” he called. “You’re a liar!” And, as the insults rained down, I seized the opportunity to confront him about constantly calling the cops and never having the decency to come talk to us directly. Finally, here at last was my proof that it had been them all along, and, ironically, while he was calling me a liar, all I could think was that it felt good to have the honesty in the air between us.  Interestingly, he never even mentioned the noise from the bar. Minutes into the confrontation, his South American partner stood up. He had been sitting on the other side of the balcony the whole time but was so hidden that I hadn’t even realized he was there. When the two of them started yelling “Liar” at me like schoolchildren I knew that the confrontation was pointless and decided that I had heard enough. I walked through the arch and out of sight, but when I heard a third voice – the voice of a friend – I stopped to listen. Balazs had heard the whole thing from his living room and was calling out to the neighbors from his balcony to defend me.

The whole incident shook me up so badly that, for days afterwards, I dreaded going to AlteArte. It was as if, by walking through the parking lot and then through the archway to enter the old town, I was entering into a zone of negativity and evilness. And all I could think about was the Australian’s evil grin as he threw his insults at me. All I could feel were eyes watching me. And I wondered how many more enemies we had that we had not yet identified. All around AlteArte, we were surrounded by neighbors who had always seemed to tolerate us, but ever since these neighbors had arrived, the dynamics had shifted. They singlehandedly were turning these never-friendly-but-up-until-now-at-least-tolerant neighbors into enemies who likely had plots to shut down the bar. And I felt with a clear certainty that they were the ones who had personally taken it upon themselves to make sure that the street in front of AlteArte was clear of tables and chairs.

For years, the streets around AlteArte were a little paradise of a neighborhood that was so charming that I originally questioned if all of it was even real. For months, these new neighbors with their cute dog looked so sweet and innocent that I never suspected the problems that they would create. Now, I wonder if Calle Honda is not actually Wisteria Lane and whether these manipulative, evil, conniving people weren’t just written into the script because paradise was getting dull and the viewers needed some drama.

Or maybe I’ve finally seen beyond the surface, beyond the layers, and caught sight of the reality. I always yearned to see beyond the closed doors and into the houses, to get to know the people who lived here. Now, I wish that I could firmly close those doors with a deadbolt and could unsee what I have seen, for our neighborhood certainly looks better when wearing rose-colored glasses.

In My Parents’ Footsteps…

In the 1970’s, my parents owned Farenheit 451, a small bookstore in Laguna Beach, California. They had one child – my brother – and they all lived above the bookstore. They lived a carefree, hippie lifestyle. My dad would run barefoot on the beach every day until his feet bled. He drank raw juice concoctions, and he had a long, scraggly, red beard. They had a myna bird that would wolf whistle at the girls walking by. And their customers were an eclectic bunch, some of whom would come not for the books but to talk to my parents for hours. Life was interesting to say the least, but, two years in, it got even more so.

In 1974, two plain-clothed officers entered the store, purchased a Zap Comix book and then proceeded to arrest my mom who was alone in the store at the time. She was taken down to the police station where she was fingerprinted and treated like a criminal. Pregnant with my sister at the time, they wanted to strip search her, but she refused. Her crime? Selling the satirical, controversial comic books which included sex, drugs and violence – or, in other words, pornography. Their arrest marked the beginning of a two year battle with the city of Laguna Beach.

My parents, detesting censorship, reached out to the local newspapers and the community, and, fortunately, Laguna Beach responded with resounding support. The local newspaper, The Daily Pilot, gave them a voice, printing numerous articles about their case. My parents would plaster the windows of their bookstore with the articles, and when the police ordered them to remove the articles, the newspaper printed a new article about how the police were harassing them. The community attended the city hall meetings and court hearings in droves. And the ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union – took on their case, offering them legal representation for free.

Not backing down, my parents continued to sell Zap Comix in their store and even celebrated the anniversary of their arrest by printing flyers which they put everywhere, including on the police cars. On Halloween day 1976 – after two solid years of fighting – the charges against them were finally dropped. My parents had won the case. They sold the bookstore later that year, left Laguna Beach and moved to a small mountain town called Idyllwild where they both went back to teaching and where, two years later, I was born. Laguna Beach was changing, and many of the liberal hippie types were leaving, including one bus load full headed for Oregon. Inside was a group called Love Animals, Don’t Eat Them and a dentist who wrote “Liberated” across his degree and taped it to the bus.

Their case might have come to a close and Laguna Beach might have officially become a part of their past, but the arrest and subsequent two year legal battle stirred a sleeping giant and awakend a radicalism within my dad. From that point on, he started writing letters to the editors about issues that were close to his heart – first censorship and then the Drug War – and he hasn’t stopped writing since. For my dad’s 70th birthday, my sister compiled many of his letters – including all of them would have been impossible – and put them in a book. The publications in which his letters have been printed range from the Orange County Register to the New York Times and even Time magazine.

But his thoughts weren’t just confined to letters. Throughout my childhood, I listened to my dad talk for hours to anyone who would listen about how we should legalize drugs. I would roll my eyes at his passionate discourse about how the government was trying to take away our freedoms one by one. He was such a starch libertarian and always so radical in his ideas. I could never understand where this undying resistance to government came from. What made him so tirelessly angry that it drove him to attend protests, attend meetings held by libertarian candidates, and constantly make his voice and opinions heard? I could never really understand it and then something happened this year that made me catch a glimpse of the world through his perspective.

Life shapes you and molds you depending on the people you meet and the experiences you have. The person you are born as will inevitably change as life runs its course and you meet people who influence you and you confront challenges that affect you. But, oftentimes, it requires having your own life experience before you can fully understand other people’s battles – even those of the people who are closest to you. This summer has been an eye opener. In 1974, my parents were dragged into a battle. July 31st 2016 marked the beginning of our own.

It was a Sunday evening when two policemen walked through the doors of AlteArte and proceeded to fine me for the terrace tables that we had on the street directly outside. Those tables had been there from the time that AlteArte was created back in 2006. Every year, we applied for a terrace license and every year the city hall approved it. But, recently, there had been a change in government, and the new party had arbitrarily decided that it was time to start applying a 10 year old regulation, a regulation that would significantly reduce many business’s terraces – including our own. We had first received word of the reduction of the terraces in early July, but it seemed so unlikely that they would actually apply it in the middle of the high season that we didn’t pay it much attention. Plus, at the couple of meetings that we had had with the city hall, the mayor and councilman who had put the order in place, weren’t being clear about when it would start being enforced. So, naturally, we decided to continue doing business as usual. After all, removing the tables would mean significant loss since we work primarily with our terrace in the Summer.

However, when the cops wrote us up on July 31st because we had the two tables and eight chairs on that street when we weren’t supposed to have any, we realized that it was most definitely being enforced. The fine ranged between 750 euros and 1500 euros, depending on when we paid it. As far as we know, we were the first to receive a fine for putting out our full terrace. In the weeks that followed, more businesses got fined, one business as much as three times over three consecutive days mounting to a total of 4500 euros. That restaurant finally consented and removed their whole terrace. Another business was severely fined and forced to reduce their tables as well as the big umbrellas that were fixed securely to the ground. The only umbrellas they were allowed were ones that could be removed every night. That would have been fine except the wind can get so strong that it literally uproots the flimsier umbrellas – as we saw ourselves days after they made the switch when we drove by on our scooter and saw the customers desperately holding on to the airborn umbrella. And yet another business got their whole terrace removed. On August 30th, that business closed their doors for good.

The city deciding to make these drastic changes was one thing, but for them to decide to do it literally at the peak of the high season was utterly absurd – and it began to feel disturbingly as though we were under attack by our own city. And the worst part was that they didn’t have any clear or logical reason for doing what they were doing. They claimed that the terraces obstructed passageway and gave a bad image of Altea to the visiting tourists. Seriously?! Lively terraces surely gave a better image than the cops going up and down the street counting all the tables and chairs and talking to the owners of the businesses, which is what they did on two consecutive Fridays at 10pm when the old town was bustling and the businesses were full. They claimed they wanted to keep the quality of tourism high – unlike in Benidorm, the next town over known for its unruly and rowdy tourism. But then why start renting out inflatable ducks and slides? Didn’t that capture the very image of Benidorm?? Why spend tons of money building a beach? Hadn’t Altea been attracting a different type of tourism specifically because we didn’t offer the same as the tourist-ridden beach towns around us?

The meetings with the city hall were futile. The councilman who, apparently, was the one who had started the whole mess was just a baby. According to his Facebook page, he had just graduated from school in 2014. He was present at the first couple of meetings but then conveniently on vacation in August when the business owners were most under attack (and also the angriest), and, at subsequent meetings after that, he conveniently stayed hidden behind the mayor. The mayor was no better. Uninformed of what was happening in his own city, it was up to us, the business owners, to inform him about what was going on. His only response was that, as mayor, he didn’t have the power to put a hold on what was happening. Of course he did! The police had obviously received the orders to regulate the terraces from someone! He also insisted that all the businesses were being treated the same. Then how come some businesses (interestingly, all the foreign-owned ones) were being outright persecuted while others continued to put their full terraces out and apparently hadn’t even received a single fine?

August passed and we limped along as best we could, although we were seriously feeling the loss of our tables and chairs. And just when we were feeling tired and defeated and losing the strength to fight, some of our friends took up the fight for us, leading a sit-in protest. They sat on the stairs of Calle Santo Domingo and held the petition up explaining the situation to the tourists passing by. And they added pages of signatures. Their support at that moment was undescribable. They gave us their strength at a moment when we were lacking our own. It assured us we weren’t alone. It lifted us up in order to keep going even in the face of absurdity.

And we welcomed September with an eagerness unlike any other Summer before. Between the late nights at work, the early morning meetings, the unrelenting intensity of the high season and the draining consequences of being under attack, September couldn’t come fast enough. And when it did, we planned a protest in front of the city hall. And when the mayor was in a meeting, we stormed his office and finally got his attention and secured a date for the next meeting. And at that meeting, he finally gave us enough respect to come prepared, and he laid out a plan over the coming months to have someone come out and measure all the terraces. The battle with the city was far from over, but at least it was finally garnering some results.

And I couldn’t help but compare our experience with my parents’ fight. And, 38 years later, I finally began to understand why my dad had become the way he had. When you don’t know better, you trust the government to have our best interests in mind or, in the very least, to know what they’re doing. You innocently disregard corruption and personal connections, thinking all of that happens elsewhere. You naively believe that everyone plays on the same playing field. The summer had worn down my faith and opened my eyes to how and why things are really done the way they are done. And, for the first time in my life, I understood my parents’ battle with the Laguna Beach police for what it was – not just a story that I had heard retold countless times throughout my life, but a story about an identity-changing experience for my parents, a story about my parents’ courage and resilience in standing up for something that they believe in.

The high season was over, making the terrace reduction less financially painful, and the battle with the city hall was on hold until the next meeting. But just when we started to relax and breathe easier, we found ourselves under attack yet again. But, this time, it wasn’t the city coming after us for our terrace. This time, the enemy was even closer to home and was all around us, watching our every move…

My Altea

On Saturday, February 27th, we celebrated six years with AlteArte. I remember our opening day as if it were yesterday. I close my eyes and vividly recall the anxiety I felt at having to take orders in Spanish and make drinks. I remember hoping that people would come while at the same time praying that they wouldn’t  – or at least not too many anyway.  I remember the relief that washed over me when my classmates from my Spanish class were among the first to walk through the door.

In some ways, it feels not so long ago. In other ways, it feels like a lifetime.

In the last six years, so much has changed – David and I, our relationship, our vision for what’s possible and what we want to accomplish. But we’re not the only ones to have changed. Altea has changed and is in the process of changing even more.

When we arrived in 2009, the church square, home to three major bars – Bar La Plaza, La Mascarada, and Cocoon – would get packed.  Then, on the last day of August two summers ago, Cocoon – which I had considered to be one of the more established businesses in Altea – quietly closed its doors. Since then, a crab restaurant has come and gone and a new restaurant just recently opened – leaving no sign at all of what it used to be. This past winter, even the square has been quiet, and AlteArte has practically been the only place open in the Old Town during the week days.

What happened? About two years ago, Altea was designated a historical site by the European Union. The designation put Altea on the map but came with a price tag. The houses needed to be maintained, the streets needed to be cleaned and the bars had to close on time. So, after four years of closing nearly every day at 4 or 5 in the morning, we were forced to adjust our closing time after a visit from the police two Augusts ago. Our official closing time was actually 1:30, but, for the next two years, we were able to get away with closing at 2 until our neighborhood started changing also. Houses were sold and bought by new neighbors, who, apparently, chose Altea for its tranquility, yet somehow overlooked the fact that there was a bar just at the end of the street. Ever searching for tranquility, the new neighbors started calling the cops on us. As a result, much to my surprise, the police made several visits in January, informing us that the neighbors had been complaining and that AlteArte was officially under surveillance – and would be required to close at the official closing time of 1:30 every day. January is the lowest period of the low season. How ironic that we had closed at 4 or 5 everyday in the first four years, yet it was now that we were getting more heat than ever. How confusing that we’d had much busier nights and never had trouble with the police, yet here we were in January, paranoid every night that we were going to get yet another visit from the cops.

And I found myself getting mad and frustrated at these new neighbors, who, instead of adapting to the neighborhood, were trying to change the neighborhood so that it would adapt to their lifestyles. And then I realized something. Of course Altea is changing. It has and it always will. No city, no place ever stays the same. When David and I first arrived to Altea in 2009, we were the new kids on the block and didn’t know much about Altea. We would listen with amazement as Warner would tell us how Altea used to be the party place and would actually draw people from the surrounding towns, and my eyes would open wide as Peter, our neighbor, recalled how Bar La Plaza would be packed with people almost every night of the week. Just because I can’t imagine Altea or Bar La Plaza being like that now doesn’t erase the fact that they were actually once this way.

Altea has changed and it’s still changing. I’ve noticed change ever since our second year, when I marveled at how quickly the businesses that had opened right before the summer had closed right after it, but, over the past two years, a different kind of change has been taking place. I have been here long enough now that it is no longer simply Altea that is changing, but rather My Altea.

Nearly two years ago, Eugenio Mira, the ceramicist that I so deeply admire, finally decided to slow down and downgraded from the large store exiting out on to Calle Mayor, the main shopping street in the Old Town, to the back of the shop that exits out on to the parallel street – the street that AlteArte is on. He opened his small shop only in the Summer months last year, and he might not be open at all this summer, he tells me as he gives me his card so that we can call him directly when my family comes in May and my sister needs to make her annual purchase of ceramic doves. And it’s a startling thought to realize that, had I arrived to Altea just a bit later, I might never have even known about Eugenio. I would have never had the opportunity to visit what came to be one of the first shops on the Calle Mayor, and I very easily might have missed the chance to meet one of the most inspirational and centered people in Altea who, unknowingly, helped me to find grounding and inner strength at at time in my life that I needed it most.

Had we arrived later, I might have looked with disdain at the abandoned house just across and slightly down the street from AlteArte that, due to its rapidly declining condition, has practically become an eyesore. I could never have imagined that this blemish on the street that tourists now try to angle out of in their photos was actually one of the most photographed houses only two years ago. I might have wondered how a house on such a charming street could be so lifeless, never knowing how full of life it once was – with a bedroom full of books and a facade that overflowed like a waterfall with plants and flowers. I might have wondered who lived there, but I never could have imagined the woman who actually did. Anna had such a grandiose presence and such a theatrical voice that she singlehandedly filled the neighborhood with life, drama and adventure.  Sometimes she would exit from her house barefoot, take a seat at our smallest table, order a glass of white wine and read her book. Sometimes she would tell me about her life which involved several countries and many men, and which, as hard as it was for me to fully grasp for all the things she has done, definitely was not wont of adventure. Sometimes she would call from her balcony, her face all but hidden by her plants, to Karl as he leaned out of the window of the house next door. Their constant banter, and the way that these neigbors would each complain to me about the other made me wonder about their relationship. And then one day Anna fell on one of the steep staircases of her narrow, three story house and was taken to the hospital. Her decline was quick, and, within months, she was moved to a home. And when I saw the impact that her absence had on Karl, I understood that their love/hate relationship actually had more to do with love than hate. And when I saw how the house has declined since she left, I understood it was she who added all the life and it was she who added the soul. And when I saw how the neighborhood has changed since she has been gone, I feel grateful to have arrived in time to meet one of Altea’s most vibrant characters.

My Altea continues to change. Juan Dura, the artist who captured the charm of Altea in his paintings that he would sell from his small shop in the square but who also made me fall in love with Altea during our very first visit to Altea, left his shop and Altea this fall, when, as rumors have it, he fell in love with a woman from Malaga. Had we arrived just years later, I never would have known that there was once an artist who would set up his easel just outside of his shop and paint a perfect picture of the picture perfect setting before him.

And shortly before leaving for California in November to surprise my dad for his 75th birthday, Pepa and Warner came in. We had known Pepa since our first year. She had opened her shop, Artesans, a short time before we arrived to Altea. And, through the years, we watched as she became part of the ebb and flow of Altea’s seasons – as, every spring, she prepared her store for yet another summer – painting the walls, shopping for new merchandise, taking a gamble on what this year’s tourists would spend their money on, and ironing the new clothes hours on end. We saw as she converted her living room into a second room for the store and added second hand merchandise, trying to adjust to the times and appeal to a new type of customer who was spending carefully and buying less.  I knew that Pepa had been struggling to make ends meet, so the announcement that she was moving to the north of Spain to open a store in a ski town that supposedly had two high seasons didn’t surprise me, but it deeply saddened me. Warner would go with her to help her get her new store ready as he had helped her with her store in Altea. So, on October 31st, instead of dressing up in impressive costumes as they had every Halloween previously, they were setting out to set Pepa up with a new life – and a new store. Had we arrived to Altea a little later, I might never have gotten to know Pepa who helped clue us in to all of Altea’s fiestas, who told us about the shooting stars in August, and who has been such a part of our history that she helped us perfect our mojito so that we could  officially became a mojiteria.

And when I returned from California a month later in December, David told me how El Raconet had closed while I was gone. And I was beyond shocked.  The closing of El Raconet signified something grand. It was a bar that had opened about a year after we took over AlteArte. They had entered the scene strong, created a lot of noise, and had quickly become the new popular hangout for the students. Insecure and only in our second year, we couldn’t help but compare ourselves to them, to wonder if they had more customers than we did, if they were open longer or if their parties were better. El Raconet’s arrival made us focus on what we wanted AlteArte to be and tested our focus and dedication to that vision until we were able to move beyond the initial feeling of insecurity. Had we arrived later, we might have missed that era altogether that made us question and define AlteArte’s identity early on.

And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, in November, Sissel moved back to Norway. One of my first friends in Altea and one of our first customers at AlteArte, Sissel had been one of our strongest supporters since the beginning. Altea is a transient place, and I have learned time and time again to say hello and goodbye as people come and go, but Sissel’s departure was one of the first times that I had to say goodbye to someone who had been here longer than I have. My Altea was most certainly changing.

Six years may have passed in the blink of an eye, but, when I step back and look at the big picture, I realize exactly what six years represents.

And finally I can better understand why the old woman across the street from AlteArte was so upset when we added an extra table to our terrace. It had caused such an uproar and literally almost caused a war, and I couldn’t understand how one table could cause such discontentment. Not having been in Altea or Spain long enough, I hadn’t realized that the addition of that extra table prevented her from setting out her chair on the street and sitting there on a countless summer evening watching the people walk by. It was a custom that she had been doing probably for as long as she could remember, yet here we were, newcomers to Altea, disrupting her sacred tradition. For her, us placing the table and filling it every night with customers marked one significant way in which Her Altea had changed.

Altea is constantly changing and will continue to change. Last week, I met a couple who just arrived to Altea. The husband asked if we could meet for coffee as he had questions for me since they have dreams of establishing a business in Altea. And I can’t help but think of when we were just setting out on our own adventure six years ago. And I wonder if we’ll come to represent something significant to this couple just as people like Eugenio Mira, Anna, Juan Dura, Pepa and Sissel and places like El Raconet had come to represent something very significant to us. I wonder if we’ll become a part of Their Altea.

Places mean different things to different people. They are moments captured in a snapshot and comprised of the people, the experiences and the memories of each individual who walked its streets during a certain period in time. No matter how much Paris changes, in my mind, it will forever remain the place that I knew it in 2000 – pre Euro, pre Starbucks when life was affordable and you could walk Paris’s streets without feeling the presence of the U.S. New York City will forever remain the city that I knew it between 2005 and 2009 as a city of dreams and aspirations. When I’ve gone back to Paris in recent years, I’ve been shocked by how expensive the city has become and how the energy has shifted.  If we were ever to visit our old East Harlem neighborhood again, I doubt that I would even recognize it, for it was just on the brink of gentrification when we left in 2009. Places change. They have and they always will. All we can do is enjoy the present moment even if it’s fleeting, make our time meaningful while we’re here and be ready to embrace the change that’s sure to come.

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Anna’s house then… it’s the one overflowing with plants and flowers on the left.


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Anna’s house now. It’s just a shell of what it once was.


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Anna’s house now.


Street Scene

Juan Dura was painting during our very first visit to Altea.


Pepa and Jenny

Pepa (on the left) has been part of our Altea since the beginning.


Ivan and Sissel

Sissel (on the right) has been one of our strongest supporters since the beginning.

Gaga

Some of us live to 30, others to 100. But, in the end, life is not about the number of years we are alive. Life boils down to a handful of defining moments that give shape and meaning to our time on this earth. Some moments are so unpredictable that they shake up your life – such as the double layoff in 2009 which resulted in David and me leaving New York and coming to Spain.  Others are so intense that they shake you to your very core.

It was towards the end of May, during my parents’ and my sister’s annual trip to Spain when we received the news. My grandmother had taken a turn for the worse. The news itself, while disturbing, didn’t stop my world as news like that should have. So what if she was spending more time in bed? She was 104 after all. Who could blame her? But that didn’t necessarily mean that it was anything serious. Maybe she was just passing into another stage of life just as she had when she had gone from walking to being confined to a wheelchair… a phase that she had stayed in for more than a decade.

Call it denial.

The daily calls home offered varying reports, but  nothing was too alarming.  She still spent every day in bed – a drastic change for my grandmother who, in her later years, waited impatiently every morning for her caregivers to come so that she could get out of bed. But my grandmother was strong.  She would pull through.

I had rented a car while my family was here, and the plan was to drop them off at the airport in Madrid where they would then fly back to California and I would drive back to Altea. David encouraged me to go back to the US with them. He had ever since he had first heard the news. I resisted, thinking of the various reasons why it would be reckless to do, still refusing to believe that this was anything really serious.

And I would have stuck with that plan if not for the fact that we were in Spain and everything moves slower in Spain – even the wheelchair pushers. It turned out that my family had checked in at the airport and were waiting for the wheelchair that my sister had reserved for my dad. My dad doesn’t need a wheelchair, but my sister has started requesting one for him whenever he travels in order to make the long trip less tiring.  In other words, he very easily could have walked, if necessary. The agent confirmed that the wheelchair pusher was on his way, so they stayed put. The minutes ticked by but no one came to push the wheelchair. The agent held fast. The departure time approached. No need to worry.  Yet, my sister was worried and then started to seriously stress. She knew the Madrid airport and knew that it was not a short distance between the check in desk and the gate. At last, the wheelchair pusher arrived. But he was in no hurry to get anywhere. And as he took his time pushing my dad, the minutes continued to tick by. Too many minutes. It turns out that everything is late in Spain – everything except for that plane which was leaving right on time. By the time they finally arrived at the gate, the flight had been closed out. No apologies were given. And, just like that, they had to figure out a different way to get home if they wanted to travel that day or they had to try again for the exact same flight – the next day.

Meanwhile, I was about a half hour away from the airport when I decided to stop for a coffee. I sent a quick message to my sister to make sure everything was OK. When I heard what happened, I drove back and picked them up. We would try again the next day. But, until then, I was just happy to have another day with them.

It was later that evening that my dad called my aunt for an update. The report was dismal. And that’s when the reality finally started to sink in. Maybe the end really was drawing near – as impossible as that was to imagine. The next day on the drive to the airport, at the very last minute, we made all the necessary arrangements for me to go with them, and I flew back to California with my family.

We drove up to the Big Bear house – the beautiful, mountain home that held so many memories for me. This was where we had spent every Christmas when I was growing up. We would surround the base of the tree with presents, and, every Christmas morning, grudgingly abide by my grandmother’s rules to eat breakfast before opening presents. It was in the backyard of this house that David and I had gotten married nearly 13 years ago. We had chosen the Big Bear house not only for the idyllic setting, but also so that my grandmother could be present. I still remember looking up and seeing her in her wheelchair watching from the porch.  This is where the big family reunion would take place every August, when family would fly in from everywhere, and my grandmother would host her growing family. In the later years, when she was no longer capable of cooking or even standing up to greet us, she would stress at how useless she had become. What my grandmother could never see was how she was the core of our family and that she, singlehandedly, kept the family together. We all needed her but for so much more than the meal or drink that she might have once served. She was the source of all that was good and pure. Somehow my grandmother had weathered life and hadn’t become bitter or negative or weighed down. My grandmother loved unconditionally and gave unendingly – not just to her family but to everyone who was fortunate to cross her path and mostly to the underdog. She took care of those who it seemed life had forgotten about or given up on.

We entered her house in Big Bear. On any other occasion, my grandmother would have been there in her wheelchair to greet us as soon as we entered the front door. But, now, it was only peace and tranquility that embraced us. My grandmother was in bed. And that’s where she stayed – only once in the three weeks that I was there requesting to get up. The day that she did, we all rejoiced as she was helped into her wheelchair and we sighed with relief when she took three bites of scrambled eggs and two sips of coffee – for she had barely eaten over the last weeks. But, as she slumped over, unable to keep her head up, we realized that what we had hoped was a miracle was nothing more than a valiant last demonstration of strength, and most likely, ever the self-sacrificer, my grandmother was probably doing it just for us.

As I visited her bedside every day, and I watched the string of visitors, and I heard the phone ring endlessly, and I admired the flowers that arrived, I realized how many lives my grandmother had touched. And, as my grandmother’s body shut down more and more every day, it occurred to me that this might be the only time in my life that I would witness someone die of nothing more than just old age.

In those three weeks, my grandmother didn’t say much at all, especially as it became increasingly difficult for her to speak. On the occasions that she did initiate speech,  it was to ask after her kitty which she did daily. Where was her kitty? Had someone fed her kitty? And then once more on the day that we were leaving – when she asked for my dad. I had to fly to Mexico and my parents and my sister were coming down the mountain to drive me to the airport. We anxiously summoned my dad who had already said goodbye and who was waiting for us in the car. And, as we all crowded around her bed, excited to see her more aware than she had been in a while, we said goodbye. And, together, we recited “Crossing the Bar”, a poem that had become one of my grandmother’s favorites especially during those last weeks of her life. My grandmother knew it by heart, and at our prompting, would recite it often and fervently during those last weeks  – as if she hoped that by saying it, she could speed up the process so that she, too, could cross the bar and enter into heaven. And I realized that this might very well be the only in time in my life that I would witness someone exit this world as elegantly as they had lived in it.

After we first arrived to Big Bear, Anne, my grandmother’s physiotherapist, often said that she thought my grandmother had hung on until we arrived from Spain in order to say goodbye. But I think what my grandmother needed was for us to come back, say goodbye and leave again. Because, as fervently as my grandmother tried to let go, she couldn’t when we were there sitting next to her, encouraging her to eat, saying goodnight to her every evening and anxiously checking in on her every morning. Two days after we left, following a perfectly clear day, the sky opened up and, in the middle of the night, the rain came. And Big Bear, which had been suffering from a serious drought, was treated to a storm so grand that the entire valley was left without electricity.  By dawn, the skies had cleared up once more, and my grandmother was at peace. She had finally found the way to cross the bar – one month short of her 105th birthday.

My sister felt bad breaking the news to me on the very first day that I had arrived in Mexico and just as I was reuniting with many of my closest friends from college, several of which I hadn’t seen in years. But as the words registered and the tears fell, they gathered around me, and I couldn’t help but feel that it was somehow fitting that they were the people I was with at that moment. They had met me just out of high school, we had all lived together in our second year of college, most of them had personally met my grandmother when they had attended my wedding held in her backyard. These were some of the people who knew me best, but, most importantly, they were the ones who best understood what it meant to me to lose my grandmother.

Those three weeks beside my grandmother shook me to the core and will forever be some of the most precious and defining moments that I have lived. I so easily could have missed that opportunity to say goodbye, to tell my grandmother in person how much I love her and how important she is in my life, to personally feel the love and positive energy that filled her room during those last weeks. I came so close to not being at her side. But thanks to David who pushed me to go, and thanks to Coral who made it possible for me to fly standby on that flight back with my family,  and thanks to the wheelchair pusher who arrived late, I made it right where I needed to be.

My grandmother was – and continues to be – a pillar of strength for me. I am stronger because she gave me the tools so that I could be, I am a better person because she modeled greatness for me, I am me because she empowered me to be who I wanted to be. I don’t believe that I am even capable of coming close to emulating my grandmother. I believe few people really can. But I hope that, through AlteArte, when I help someone to showcase their talent, or reach out to someone, or make someone feel part of a community, I am – in some small way at least – honoring my grandmother’s very beautiful spirit.

I love you, Gaga.

We Reach Five Years and Take Business Up a Notch

In February, as our five year anniversary approached, and I started looking through photos and reviewing the year, I couldn’t help but feel proud of what we had been able to accomplish. The addition of the third level, or what we refer to as the “gallery”, had changed the dynamics of the business, not only making AlteArte’s presence much more dominant on the street, but making it much more flexible in the possibilities.

In the past year, we had held monthly exhibitions, attracting artists from as far away as Madrid. We had offered workshops ranging from a flamenco dance to a drama workshop taught by professionals in the field. We had used the room for  weekly language exchange meetings where people gathered together to practice their English or their Spanish. We had hosted special speaking events from local authors as part of our book club. And we had filled the gallery with music performed by talented musicians such as a local swing/jazz group and a very talented singer/song writer from Norway.

The truth was that the possibilities were limitless. And the gallery was the perfect space to bring everything to life. The door connecting it to the rest of AlteArte could be closed, the music could be turned off, and we could be hosting a special event without it affecting the rest of the business in any way. In fact, from the first level, you wouldn’t have a clue that something was happening on the third. It was so unlike our first year when we attempted to show a movie only to have a serious clash between people who were there for the movie and people who were there just to have a drink.

Best of all, Altea is like a treasure box of talented people. And, by expanding to the third level, we were providing the space to showcase that talent. Altea and AlteArte went hand-in-hand, and, in a very natural, organic and almost effortless way, the gallery came to life.

And, as much as the glowing comments from customers had replenished my energy and pushed me forward for the first four years, the feeling that we were authentically adding to the community and becoming a center of culture in Altea’s Old Town filled me with a very different kind of sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

And I remembered just over five years earlier when we were first moving to Altea, and I had yearned to be a part of it all. There were still so many layers of Altea that I had yet to uncover – and perhaps never will – but, as we celebrated five years, at least I could confidently say that, in our own way, we had added some extra magic to this special town.