Keep that Castillo Far Away, Per Favore

Looking at my daily dose of wine news yesterday, I came across the most beautiful picture of a medieval castle, its timeless quality framed by a pine forest behind and an enchanting vineyard out front. How it sat there, majestic in its quiet (Samuel had just gone down for a nap and “quiet” was my word of the moment). My first thought was “Oh, how I miss Italy,” where I imagined this castle was. “Wouldn’t a dose of sunshine—or limoncello— in that land of rustic comfort and fine leather hit the spot right about now?” (it was 10 AM, PST, the rain coming down on a grey January morn, as I sat with my own rustic Oregon comfort, coffee). Then I saw the story’s headline, Wine Tales of The Decade.

“Maybe another Italian scandal,” I thought, thinking of the Brunello troubles. “Or MAYBE,” and this is what I secretly hoped it was, “that old buck of a Prime Minister has a new 18-year old wine heiress-mistress?” and with that thought in mind I settled in to read the juicy news.

Well. I was had.

It wasn’t Italy. Not even a story about Italy. But California, and a new “wine” castle (absolutely stunning, I might add—and why shouldn’t it be, the builder has been a fan of medieval castles for decades and not only builds them, but restores ancient structures) built in the previous decade. I laughed. Here I had just written about the Little House on the Hilltop project and the need/desire to build a “little something.” Talked of rammed earth, of straw bale, of pole barns. How did I overlook the idea of a castle?

I understand people’s fascinations with castles, I do. One of my favorite places in Ireland was where they filmed scenes in Braveheart—maybe the most famous when Wallace was tortured and executed—at the castle in Trim. It was just down the road from where we lived in County Meath. I also lived in Germany, Bavaria to be exact, under the shadow of a castle built high on a wooded hillside, and loved the fairy-tale qualities of that village and seeing that castle from my window every day. So I can understand people’s desire to replicate castles and the passion that drives them to recreate that time, to live in them, do whatever in them. How they convey a kind of romance, take a person back to another time, blah blah blah. But I wonder, when did the need for novelty replace the idea of authenticity?

A big fan of Antiques Roadshow I wonder what they might have to say about this, this 12th century Italian-like castle, as far as the idea of authenticity goes. I’m sure there’d be extreme appreciation for its craftsmanship; from what I could glean from its owner’s website no period details were ignored, it appears to be a truly stunning building. “Mastery of medieval architecture is apparent,” they might say. “No detail overlooked. Including the strumpets milling around outside. However,” they might continue, “it lacks a certain authenticity in that there’s no provenance. Or, there is, even though there is ancient stone used in its structure, it is still a 12-century Italian-like castle with a 21st-century California provenance, and that greatly reduces its value. I’d say at auction, in today’s market, with real estate prices at their worst, you can expect far, far less than if it were the real deal. But as far as fakes go, it’s fantastic. What a great find. Thanks for sharing it.”

The authentic in American’s landscape, or better, the decline of it, is the subject of a book of essays I recently bought, Vanishing America: In Pursuit of Our Elusive Landscapes, by James Conaway. He has a quote in it (that is ironically in the section on California wine country—mainly Napa Valley—which is where this castle I speak of is located) that, to me, says it all:

“…Napa Valley…[shows] symptoms of the gigantism that has afflicted so many new American structures—the architectural and intellectual equivalent of obesity.” p. 255.

(I’m not singling out Napa Valley, btw; that castle could be anywhere.)

Maybe that’s why an idea of a castle did not spring to mind; the only type of gigantism that afflicts me is that of the heart, when I look out over the land. It is in no way pristine, for it has been touched by man for decades. Yet it still conveys a wild and pure feeling—no strip malls, no houses at all, even at the moment—and I hope that that feeling can remain. That buildings out there will be thoughtful and strive to contribute to the landscape, not take away from it. But if there ever happen to be any neighbor of ours who wants to put up something monstrous on that most lovely of vistas, I’d take a finely crafted McCastle, particularly like that one in Napa Valley, over a ticky-TACKY McMansion any day. I hope that doesn’t make me a McHypocrite, does it?

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  1. I love my dear little family and I love reading all this great information and heart felt renderings you put into this. God Bless.


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