A place where everybody knows your name

DSC01009Saturday suddenly was here without a warning. The week has gone by so quickly I can hardly keep my days straight. Ariana and Xara had a wedding and a few other appointments on this day so I knew I’d have the day to myself. Instead of loneliness I was overcome with a sense of adventure, curiosity and playfulness. I got up, dressed and decided I would scout out the town and see what I could see.

Armed with my camera and my wallet I set out to explore Altea. I walked down the stairs to our beachside home and opened the door onto the main street. I turned left, crossed the street and stepped on the the olive grove. I took a few pictures, as I like to pretend I’m a photo journalist any time I get a camera in my hands. The world becomes art and it is mine to capture it. It’s funny there are things I see when I hold a camera that I would not see if I were simply walking around. (I like having a camera on my phone as it gives me this incentive to see the world as art with a desire to capture every moment of beauty.)

I had met a local artist whose sister owned a shop right off the olive grove. I stepped into the shop and was fascinated by everything I saw. She had very good taste and her store was filled with delicate beauty. Necklaces, earrings, purses, and the like filled the shop with colors and shapes that were unique and not over stated. I was able to speak just a bit with her. I knew just enough to tell her I thought her inventory was beautiful.

My curiosity kept me moving on. I passed by a bakery, the widows were filled with the most delectable of treats. Croissants, chocolate, and many unfamiliar delights beckoned on lookers. I watched as small children and adults alike closed their eyes, breathed in and took their first bite of their morning treats. I kept walking.

Next I walked down a main street filled with every kind of store imaginable. The stores are small and particular. One wouldn’t find a Target type store here. But the entire street felt much like a Target divided into small stores. So much life at every turn. Old and young alike filled the streets. Some were bustling along as though their agenda for the morning was quite full. Others sat and lingered enjoying being in the company of friends and family. It was a perfect picture of Saturday life; errands, fun, relationship, food, tears of small children as their mothers dragged them from store to store. Nothing was unfamiliar but everything was new. I smiled as I walked and watched.

Just about half way down the street I looked ahead and to my surprise I saw three people I knew walking towards me. Gloria, whose birthday I had celebrated the night before and the two youngest boys at the party were walking towards me. My Spanish teacher, smiled when he saw me. He pointed to his hair, I very quickly said, “pelo”. He nodded with satisfaction. We kept walking and he lifted his leg and made a burst of a sound from his mouth, I laughed out loud and said, “pedo!” We smiled and waved goodbye. I had passed my test. And I felt like a local. I had friends in this place  I had only been for four days.

I walked up the stairs to Old Town. It was not as busy here. The plaza was full of trucks and people setting up for the first night of the summer artist market. People were working hard to get ready for the evening. I felt a little in the way as people were very focused with their tasks. I then saw another friend I had made in my short first days. He is a local artist, he is bald, a little scruffy, has many tattoos, gauged ears and very distinct features. I find him intriguing and slightly curious. We greeted each other. I think we both were excited to see someone that we knew. (Ok, maybe I was just excited because I knew someone.) Our greeting was quick as he had much work to do to set up for the evening.

The artists make nearly all of their money in the short months of the summer market. During the months of July, August, September and October the upper plaza by the old church is filled with artisans on weekend evenings. At the peak of tourist season this is a good move and it adds to the unique artist flare I’ve come to love here.

I kept walking. I stepped into the church, a nun greeted me with a smile and pointed to a small box to place donations. She was very persuasive, even without my understanding, so I placed a euro in the box. The church was ornate and there was a sadness there. I was struck by that feeling as I stood in wonder at the gold trim and detailed paintings covering the canvas of the walls and ceilings. The stations of the cross were found on the pillars of the large room. I was struck by how cartoon like Jesus looked. He did not look like the Jesus presented in the grand cathedrals of Italy, but he didn’t capture me. He was pasty and almost lifeless. I think Jesus had life in his eyes even when he was suffering. These paintings did not do him any justice.

Up and down narrow cobblestone streets I made my way like a mouse in a maze. I looked around as a child at Disneyland for the first time. Every sight was new and yet familiar. I made up my mind to get back home before it was too late to enjoy the sun, so I traveled back down the stairs to my home on the beach. I am confident here. I am confident in my ability to get around, to enjoy the new and familiar.

I spent the next few hours in the sun interspersed with moments of cleaning and hanging the laundry out to dry. (Confession: I become a little giddy every time I hang something on the line to dry. It is as though I’m playing a role in a movie and am truly entering into my character.) I read, did some writing and breathed in the air of another lovely day on the Mediterranean.

It was now 8pm and I knew I wanted to go out. I showered and did my hair and put on a dress (I’ve worn a dress every day I’ve been here. I feel feminine and free. Many of the women here live in dresses. I’ll be writing more about my observations on uniquenesses of women and men in blogs to come.)

1001495_10152950892500004_2144905665_nNow dressed and ready I stepped out once again on my own. Unlike Wednesday where being alone brought up feelings of loneliness, today my being alone conjured up feelings of adventure. I headed back up the steps into Old Town. I got up the main steps and turned to the right as the road divides in two directions. I was going to head straight but saw a young toe headed child had dropped his yoyo from the plaza above. His sister was laughing and pointing and his eyes were filled with sadness. I walked over and picked up his yoyo. I showed him that I had it and he looked at me inquisitively. Was I going to keep it? Was I going to bring it to him? What was to come of his toy? I imagine these questions swirled in him mind. I walked out of sight and eventually turned the corner and entered the plaza where the young boy was trying to wiggle his way out of a family picture. When he saw me he smiled and hesitantly approached me. I reached out my hand and opened it unveiling his beloved toy. He squealed with delight. His father made sure he thanked me and he did.

Once our greetings were finished I continued to walk up the second set of steps onto the plaza where artisans had now filled the outlining spaces. I saw my friend again, this time he was accompanied by his girlfriend whom I also had met. I was happy to see her. They showed me their work and I was in awe. The jewelry I had seen earlier at the shop and loved, was his! His work was fine and detailed and feminine and lovely and beautiful. I touched it all and wanted to buy everything! Tonight I resisted. But I know I will purchase something before I leave.

I walked to each booth, looking at the result of each persons imagination and craft. The creativity amazes me. Art reminds me that we come from and were designed by a master Creator. The Creator Premier! I thought of my tattoo of a paintbrush and smiled as I too get to share in creation.

After perusing the booths I made my way down a side street where I entered a dress shop. The colors and patters were bold and bright. I found a dress that I thought was my kind of bold and I made the purchase. Again, feeling like a character in a movie I used my three year old Spanish with a little more confidence. The dress was exactly what I had been looking for.

(Women wear a lot of dresses here. They are feminine without being overdone and they are strong and confident and in touch with themselves. I’ve loved observing them. I feel as though we women from the states have so much to learn about true femininity. Its a beautifully powerful thing.)

After my purchase and my newly found confidence in my ability to speak Spanish I went back to a local cafe where I had met the owners with Ariana my first night out on the town. I easily found the location and as I turned the corner I met eyes with the owner whom I had met two days earlier. He greeted me as though I were a friend and we chatted a bit. I stepped inside of the cafe and sat down. I don’t normally go out to eat or drink alone, so this was a whole new experience. Sarah, who is co-owener of the cafe with her husband, assured me it is custom and very normal for people to eat or drink alone in Spain, as they will not be alone for very long. This was true. I was not alone very long.

I talked with a few locals, had the best mojito I’ve had, hands down and observed as people came and went. In the states we are enamored with the idea of the show “Cheers” a place where everybody knows your name. Her in Altea, it’s a normal part of life. People are genuinely interested in you and desire to be in relationship with you. This kind of warmth is inspiring and I pray that I will be the kind of person who treats others with this much investment from the get go.

I lingered at the counter for a few hours and then decided I wanted to head back home. I paid up, gathered my things and made the walk back to the Casa. I think I may have smiled the entire way. I had put on the character of a Spanish woman and I think I may have just pulled it off. I was free. I was confident. I was strong. I was vivacious.

The funny thing is, I didn’t need to be a character to play this role. I am these things. In the days leading up to this trip I have walked with a light step and a renewed spirit. Spain, it turns out, is a great place to put all of this new into practice.

What kind of character do you imagine yourself being? Who do you want to be? Tomorrow, goodness… today! choose to be the best version of you possible. Wear yourself well and be free. May you find your own Spain… that you can practice being you!

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