Tag Archives: Altea

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 Fondo 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.

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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.

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.

Raising Business

People often ask me if I have children. I look around, spread my arms wide, and I show them my child: AlteArte. Perhaps it’s not what they were expecting, but it’s the closest thing I have – besides our two cats – to a child. And, though I know that the two are very different, there are some aspects that seem to be quite parallel. The people listen with interest. And I do my best to explain.

David and I ventured into AlteArte with the same trepidation that I imagine any new parent must feel as they welcome their child into the world. We didn’t know what awaited, we didn’t really understand how it would change our lives, and we hoped that we would be good at it although there was no guarantee that we would be.

Much as I imagine it must be like with a newborn, AlteArte kept us up late in the beginning, as our days often wouldn’t end until 4 in the morning – even on weekdays. Being a morning person, I struggled to adjust to the new schedule. It was difficult that my days wouldn’t start until noon, my most productive morning hours slipping into nonexistence. The hours were irregular, and we could never quite make any plans for the following day, as we never quite knew when we would be able to turn off the lights the night before. For the first 8 months, we opened 7 days a week as we tried to familiarize ourselves with the rhythm of running a business in Altea. AlteArte became our top priority as we lived and breathed the business 24 hours a day. The business became our everything.

The first two years, we watched with fascination and worry, as we hoped that the decisions we were making were the right ones. Were we focusing on the right things? Disciplining in the right way? We worried about positioning ourselves correctly and finding our place among the other already exisiting as well as new businesses in Altea. We navigated these new waters as best we could, and, during the journey, we made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot – some lessons taking longer than others to sink in.

As a new parent often is, we were tested in those early years. What would we accept, how much would we put up with, what were our limits and would we actually go so far as to punish? It took us four years to understand that we needed to set the rules and actually close at closing time, for example. A simple act, which, once we were confident enough in our decision to reinforce it, greatly improved the quality of our lives.

When we got our first visit from the police – the first time being only a week after taking over AlteArte – we panicked, as any parent would. The customers were too loud, the dogs were getting into the neighbors’ trash at 2 in the morning. It didn’t take many visits from the cops for us to understand that it was up to us – up to our guidance and our modeling alone – to steer AlteArte clear of trouble.

I also learned that, as much as I might have wanted to do or believed that I could, I simply couldn’t please everyone and that people are extremely complicated beings. And I had to learn that not everyone is a good customer and that it was important to weed out the good ones from the bad – much the same as a parent must feel when they want their child to have friends but must also be cautious of who their child hangs out with, for not everyone is a good influence. So came the subsequent lessons of learning that giving too much can hurt in the long run and how to let go once I was at peace with the efforts that I made.

And then came the hardest step of all – stepping back and trusting. Hiring people was an extremely difficult step for me to take much as I imagine it must be for any new parent hiring their first babysitter. It was one thing when David and I were the only ones running AlteArte. We put our all, our everything into the business because it was, well, our baby. We wouldn’t have put anything less. I was determined to be there, to be present, to ensure that customers went away happy. So, when we hired someone to work with us during our second summer, I maintained my post on the terrace, in order to have the most contact with the customers. It didn’t matter that I was still working hard, that I was still running. I didn’t trust anyone else to do the job. In year three, we tried hiring someone more full-time to, ideally, free us up more, and I tried letting go, but all it did was tie me down more. I became overprotective and watched like a hawk and felt ashamed to be doing so. But I couldn’t help it. I needed to know that everything was being done correctly, that the customers were being greeted when they walked through the door, that the drinks were being noted, that he cared as much as we did for this entity that we were putting under his care. In the end, we let him go, and I wondered how much of it was me being too anal or him being too blasé. Perhaps it was both.

In year four, we tried again, this time hiring Emily, a girl whom we had known since our first year when she would come as a customer. She was a student at the Art University but older and more mature. And she had a desire to work, and when we were slammed with work the first week that she started, she embraced it, claiming that this was how she learned best. And I liked her attitude. I loved that she cared. A short time later, David made the decision to hire a second girl, Ampy, to prepare us for the Summer months. Ampy is friendly and positive and quickly got to know people’s names, and I felt that I could let go even more. And I even relinquished half of my post on the terrace to her. And with the two of them on board, I could finally relax, for I trust that they’ll take care of AlteArte when we’re not there.

And, as the years passed, AlteArte grew and started taking on a life of its own. We had provided the core, the foundation, but AlteArte was growing into its own being and proving to have its own personality. And we sat back and watched with wonder as people from all around the world visited AlteArte and we listened with pride as they exclaimed what a nice place it was – much like I imagine it must be like for a parent to hear praise of his or her child. These unsolicited affirmations reassured us that we were doing something right and fueled us with the energy to keep going.

Five years have passed and David and I have stepped into the background. Once all about us, AlteArte is now about AlteArte. We’ve survived the infant and toddler years and AlteArte now stands on its own two feet. And that allows us to do a little less handholding and focus more on the future, which, though never certain, certainly looks bright.

The AlteArte Team

The AlteArte Team

There’s Something About… Altea

Altea is a special place. I’ve said it so many times, I’ve heard it being said so many more. Some people are born here but many, many more find their way here, led to this village on the Mediterranean by unexplained forces. It’s the type of village which should be a top destination in all the guide books. But people keep quiet about it as if there’s some kind of unspoken code of silence. Altea is such a special place that it’s better to keep hush about it lest the masses discover it and fundamentally change what makes it so amazing.

But the people who do somehow stumble upon it – as David and I did five years ago when we were desperately searching for the next step after we lost our jobs in New York, saw that Torrevieja wasn’t working out, and just happened to get off at the tram stop labeled, “Altea” – seem to stay. Kim is a 40 something Norwegian who arrived 20 years ago and is still here. Piero came from Italy intending to stay just for a year… That was 15 years ago. And, since David and I have been here, we have watched many more arrive, become enchanted by what Altea offers and fight to make a home here. Ted sold everything he had in Texas to set up his base here and write a book about his experience walking the Camino de Santiago, Maria chose Altea as her refuge when her husband suddenly announced that he wanted a divorce and she was forced to reinvent herself and her life. Gill, once the owner of a dance school in England, proactively chose to put her health first and moved to Spain for the lifestyle, sun and healthy foods. We each have a story to tell, we’re each on our own personal journey. Somehow we all ended up here in this tiny village on the Mediterranean.

But Altea is not a place that you can just come to. It is a place that you have to be ready for. I have always felt that Altea – because of its small town feel and its oneness with nature – was a place that I was happy in because I had already lived in Paris and New York and arrived to Altea at a point in my life when I was more ready to settle down, when I was more in search of this kind of lifestyle. I always thought that, in this way, this made me ready for Altea.

Until a friend pointed out a different perspective… Altea is a place that you have to be ready for energy-wise.

Google defines energy as, “the strength and vitality of sustained physical or mental activity”. This is a literal definition, and, up until the time I moved to Altea, this was pretty much the scope of my own understanding of the term.

However, after having lived in Altea for five years now, I understand energy in a different way and by a different meaning. Energy can be felt so strongly at times that it is nearly tangible. Some people are more susceptible to feeling energy than others. And energy comes in both positive and negative waves. Energy can be a force that connects us. It can also be a destructive field that separates us.

Altea is full of such an intense energy that sometimes it reverberates with it, and, depending on what you give out, Altea will return to you 10 fold. A guy came in the other night, just as I was contemplating this blog on energy, and announced of his own accord and without any prompting from me that Altea has a bad energy. To my relief, he left minutes later. Out of the blue, this guy who I don’t recall having ever come in before, had come and gone but had left me with his message. I could see it in his eyes when he entered, I could feel it in the energy he emitted. A general dissatisfaction, an eternal searching without the satisfaction of discovery at the other end.

But that hasn’t been my only run in with negative energy. One night, about a year ago, David was on a trip and I was running AlteArte alone. A woman who we have known since nearly the beginning came in saying that she had heard David was gone as if to explain that that was why she was now here. She sat at the bar and sipped her glass of red wine, and, as the night drew on, she became increasingly intense. The last customers left, yet she stayed. Meanwhile, the topics of her conversation grew disturbingly dark. She offered me some of her wine, growing insistent when I refused, finally dropping it after I repeatedly told her that I didn’t drink. And then she told me about how she had cheated on her husband with many men and asked if I was never tempted to do the same. And, as I looked in her eyes, the pupils now dark and dilated, I wondered if I was somehow looking at the devil, so bizarre was the interaction that I was having with this woman who was trying to tempt me with vices and so intense was the negative energy that filled the room. The clock struck 4 am, and I gently prodded her to leave, kindly refusing her ominous offer to wait while I closed so that she could walk me home. With a sigh of relief, I got her out and quickly locked the door behind her, but when I had finished and was leaving, I found her sobbing on the steps leading up to the church. I’ve never had such a disturbing encounter with someone.

Altea is, indeed, a special place, but it can be a prison to some – like the antique seller and furniture restorer who has lived here for 40 years, and is only waiting for retirement so that he can leave. It can be a paradise to others like my friend from Norway who feels like she has found her home here and never wants to leave.

Over the past five years, I have heard countless times as people from all backgrounds and from all around the world exclaim how special Altea is. Indeed, it is a very unique place that has left a profound impact on many people, but now I know that you have to be ready for Altea in more ways than I originally thought. You have to be ready to make the right choices and stand up for what you believe in and fight for what you want. You have to be ready to receive 10-fold what you put out.

It has been just over five years since we got off at the tram stop labeled, “Altea,” walked along the promenade and then, with enraptured delight, discovered the Old Town. I know now that the reason I was so struck by Altea was because I was ready for Altea. I felt enveloped by its beauty and grace and positive energy, and I felt sure that we had found what we were looking for. And I know now that it’s because we had.

Perhaps people like Ted, Maria, Gill, David and I didn’t haphazardly stumble upon Altea, after all. Perhaps, we were guided here because we were ready for Altea. Perhaps not more is said of Altea not because of an unwritten code of silence but because it’s simply a place that will be found by the right people when the time is right.

Then. And Now.

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.