Tag Archives: life

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…

The University of Life

When we arrived to Altea three years ago, I presumptuously believed that I had already learned most of what there is to know about life, about myself, about David. I had gone away to University to challenge myself to personal growth. I had lived in some of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities – Paris and New York.  I had met influential people and leaders. So when Warner told me shortly after I arrived that Altea is the University of Life, I stared at him blankly, not comprehending how a small village could teach me more about Life than the world’s most dynamic cities.  David and I were the worldly ones, I thought. We were the ones coming with fresh and innovative New York ideas. We were the ones bringing knowledge to teach. And I would have written off his statement as simply inaccurate and then, most likely, would have proceeded to forget about it all together except that there was something so odd about it that it stayed with me. Then, on January 1, 2013, it suddenly became crystal clear as if the new year brought new clarity. For so long, I had been looking at Altea from the outside in. The key was to be able to look at it from the inside out. It took me a long time to get to that point. But, after years of learning, seemingly I had finally arrived. 

Nestled along the Mediterranean, Altea is tucked away from all the noise – the noise created by big brands launching new products, bright billboards announcing new television shows, and traffic jams of everyone trying to get to… somewhere else. My occasional trips back and forth to New York and California make the quietness of Altea even more pronounced. It is in this village where the sea stretches like a blanket to the horizon, where sometimes the only sound is the water gently hitting the rocks, and where the scene from my window is like a painting save for the occasional seagull passing by that I have been able to focus on what’s really important and not get distracted by what isn’t. In this environment, I have been able to learn.  

It’s in this village that we see the same people sometimes every day. Pascual passes by in the afternoon for his coffee. Karim stops by for a beer. Fran comes by after he finishes work at the restaurant just down the street. And then there are those who come less frequently but who have been there since the very beginning. People like Warner, Pepa and Nadia can, in a glance, detect how we’re doing – whether our energy is up, if we’re having a bad day, if we need a break. This constant contact with people in Altea is so different from life in New York or California where we might have known a lot of people but we didn’t really know most people. 

The upside is that my relationships have become more authentic. I have been there in the precise moment when a friend found out that she was pregnant. I have been there in a moment of pain when another friend’s boyfriend broke up with her after more than a decade together. And I have witnessed the struggles of a good person who’s trying to do things the right way but first has to overcome a whole heap of obstacles. 

The (possible) downside is that, because these relationships are not built and maintained on the surface level but go much deeper, they serve as our mirrors – and in their reflection, we have occasionally spotted things about ourselves that we simply would rather not see. In Altea, we can’t afford to have too many off days. It is a village, after all, so our actions reverberate. When the group of more than 20 people show up at the door after closing hours, we have to explain that we’re closed – but in a nice way, because, here, you could potentially offend someone if you don’t let them in – even if it’s 3, 4 or 5 in the morning. When the guys who have obviously been drinking too much ask for more, we need to know how to cut them off in a stern but discreet way.  Inexperienced in the beginning, we didn’t quite do it with finesse the first time around and it resulted in the customer who had had too much to drink slamming down a bar stool in defiance. Obviously, he needed to be cut off, but the problem is that he was from Altea and who knows how misconstrued the story became later when shared with others who weren’t present. And when the routine gets to us or the long days wear us out or we’re stressed, we can never reveal it to our customers, even if they are some of our closest friends. Should we slip up and go too far – which has happened – our customers, our friends, are our mirrors. You can’t hide from a mirror. You can’t hide from your own reflection. 

But it’s in this setting surrounded by these people that I have been able to grow. Altea and AlteArte have pushed me to reach for new horizons, and I feel more complete, more whole, more alive. The human interaction fulfills me. The message from a friend in Slovenia telling me how AlteArte made a difference in her life enriches and adds meaning to my own. And the person that I would become each time I stepped behind the bar fascinated me. In the beginning, I assimilated it to being on stage, that I was performing – not purposely, not consciously, but in any case I wasn’t entirely me. My AlteArte personality was outgoing, able to put others at ease, able to make conversation in three languages! But, over the last nearly three years, the distinction has faded, and I have evolved into that very person who used to dazzle me with her courage.

It’s also in this setting that I have come to see David in a whole different light and understand him on a whole different scale. It’s one thing to be married to someone and have different jobs. It’s another thing to basically share the same life with someone while building the same thing. I’ve seen him create beauty with his hands and realized how much of an artist he truly is. I’ve seen him crank out ideas non stop and realized how much he has really needed a creative outlet. I’ve seen how hard working and devoted he can be to the current project on hand. I’ve seen the friends that he’s made and appreciated how devoted they are to him. But I’ve also seen how he loses his temper when he gets stressed, how he doesn’t always deal with a delicate situation well, and how a storm cloud can overtake him at a moment’s notice. On January 1, 2013, I suddenly opened my eyes. But it required a whole village serving as my mirror for me to look fully and unflinchingly in its reflection.

Warner told me about Altea being the University of Life, and I didn’t understand in that moment what he meant. But now I do. I don’t think I’ve ever been so pushed out of my comfort zone, have had so much human interaction, learned so much about myself and others, and been made so aware of strengths and weaknesses as I have since living in Altea. It’s when you can see Altea from the inside out and when you can open your eyes and finally see the truth that you finally start scraping the surface of this thing called, “Life.”

I Eat A Crepe… And Find a Friend

For some, life is defined by success. The high-paying job, the potential promotions, the nice car. For others, life is defined by a systematic order of doing things. Find a spouse, buy a house, start a family. For me, the value of life lies in the relationships that I’ve built along the way.

I have friends that are preserved in my childhood. Friends that I used to play with in my family’s treehouse, that I celebrated my birthdays with by bobbing for apples and hunting for peanuts, and that I starred in plays with that brought the whole mountain community of Idyllwild out to enjoy the performance. I moved away from that small town – so small that it didn’t even have a fast food restaurant – at the age of 12, leaving behind – and consequently losing touch – with many of my childhood friends. And, even though, years later, I have found some of them on Facebook, somehow it seems unnatural to meet again as adults. I prefer, in ways, to keep them treasured away in my childhood, preserving that image of innocence and purity that we all had when we held life in the palm of our hands.

I have college friends that remain some of my closest. They have enriched my life and helped me to become an adult. We went to frat parties together, joined the massive crowds at football games and mused about what our futures would hold.

And I have friends that I made in Paris the semester I studied abroad and the year after college when I returned to work as an English Assistant in a high school. They’re the people that make Paris feel less like a city and more like a home. Some of them are past students, one is the teacher that I worked with, one is an old roommate, one I studied abroad with. And one I met during my tireless search for the best and cheapest crepe nutella in Paris.

I have few weaknesses when it comes to food, but I’m utterly and shamelessly addicted to crepes. I savor them, and, in my search for the perfect one, have become quite the connoiseur. The batter must be the perfect consistency so that the crepes don’t come out too thick, the spread must be nutella – a chocolatey hazelnut spread – not chocolate sauce, and the crepe must be freshly made (to save time, crepe makers often make a stack of them and reheat them as necessary).

When I first became addicted, I was living frugally as a student and needed to find the best and the cheapest. I was fortunate to have been placed in an apartment that was in the center of Paris, but, more importantly, was strategically located near rue St. Denis, a street lined with sex shops but also creperies. I scoured the street for the cheapest creperie and found one where a crepe nutella was not only about .20 cents cheaper than the others but also the best. And, as I returned again and again to satisfy my addiction, I came to know the crepe maker. He was friendly and welcoming and remembered me despite the fact that hundreds of people passed by him every day.

When I returned a year later to work at the high school, I searched and found my crepe maker friend once more. He was working on the same street but at a different location. To my surprise, he remembered me, and, later on, even offered to hire me when I was trying to figure out a way to extend my work visa to stay for the summer. (I ended up working as a waitress at Hard Rock Cafe instead, thereby, bringing an abrupt end to my potential career as a crepe maker.)

In the years since, I have seen him evolve from an employee tirelessly making crepes to an entrepreneur tirelessly operating several of his own creperies and even a couple of restaurants. And he even visited David and me twice in New York when he came to see how things work in the United States and returned to add free WiFi to his restaurant and hire a jazz group to play music. And, every time David and I go to see him in Paris, he treats us to crepes, made fresh and with nutella, of course.

So, it was without question that we would go to see Chouchou during our current visit to Paris. Since his restaurant is currently under renovation, he invited us to a super nice, Michelin-rated restaurant. The fact that I got to meet his wife and his 5-month-old son made up for the fact that there was ham in my dish that was, supposedly, “une assiette de legumes”. (Even in french, it’s difficult to ensure that a plate of vegetables doesn’t come with some unwanted surprises, but I should have known because even though it was a nice restaurant, it was a beef restaurant and the waiter didn’t quite know what to do with me when I kept asking for something vegetarian.)

It’s relationships such as this one that makes my life meaningful. It’s the people that I’ve met – regardless of whether they’re friends for a moment or a lifetime – that give my life value and make my life vibrant. And even though David and I have moved around a fair amount, we bring with us the relationships that we’ve made along the way. These relationships keep California, New York and Paris alive for us and allow us to connect the past with the present and transform each independent chapter of our lives into a cohesive, vibrant, colorful patchwork.

So while others pursue their own definition of success, I know that I have already achieved mine. For it is merely by looking at the quality of the relationships that I have with the people currently in my life that I can confidently say – even at the age of 31 – that my life has been a success.

For those who find themselves in the center of Paris, be sure to visit my friend, Chouchou, at his restaurant and be sure to tell him that Sara sent you.

Restaurant Chouchou
63, rue Rambuteau
75004 Paris

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