No more castle on the hill
I’ve written of the Castle before. I lived in it for a year while I was in Australia. We sometimes humorously called it the White Castle, sometimes affectionately called it Standing Ruins, sometimes truthfully called it Death Bug Fortress. We always called it home.
The Castle was the perfect twisted fairy tale home, like something that comes to life on-screen in a Tim Burton movie or perhaps a Wes Anderson movie. It existed somewhere in the realm of disturbed whimsy. The Castle — at the top of the highest hill overlooking the quaint town below, with rounded walls and towers, surrounded by rainforest — was flimsy, dilapidated and infested with bugs whose mission in life was to kill you while you slept. Its white turrets were the first thing to catch the morning sun, gleaming back to you what the day had in store. This is something noteworthy when you live just the slightest bit west of the first place on earth the sun hits every day.
Perhaps you’ve read my stories about the paradox of life in the Castle. Waking to the most brilliantly colored birds calling outside my bedroom window. Showering with the visibly fanged huntsman spider. The gorgeous wall of windows — which wouldn’t close, leading to nights of bug-lined ceilings. Sweeping up the dead who’d fallen from the Castle’s sky before our resident ants could make breakfast of them.
It looked beautiful from the outside — if you stood no closer than the street. With its sunlit turrets, it looked aspirational from any view in town.
The inside wasn’t all squalor. The basement apartment, where the prostitute lived and welcomed in her clients, was pretty well-insulated and at least didn’t seem to have the same bug problem that we experienced upstairs. On the flat roof, we set up lawn chairs, grew salvia and looked down on our kingdom.
Guillermo del Toro could tell the story of the Castle well. But I don’t need the imaginations of cinematic directors to bring the Castle to life. I lived it.
And for all the bedbugs and cockroaches and spider bites and wasp stings, I loved it.
A pilot I wrote for a children’s animated show was recently picked up to be turned into a series in Australia. I will be heading to the country soon. It’ll be my first time back in 16 years. In addition to meeting with the production company, I’ve made plans to see old friends and drive up to the Castle.
But the Castle is gone.
Google Maps shows the top of the hill. There stands a new modern home with a geometrical design and indoor-outdoor living spaces — decks suspended like bridges.
I want to go knock on the door. I want to ask whether the new owner simply took a wrecking ball to the place or took the appropriate steps to keep the integrity and character of the home: “Sure, those floor-to-ceiling windows are nice, but please tell me they do not shut. Did you make a nice terrarium for Hunter the shower-loving huntsman in your new marble powder room? Where is the friendly neighborhood prostitute, Maria? Tell me you renovated the downstairs for Maria!”
Perhaps I’m being overly sentimental. Everything that made the Castle impossible to live in is gone. But everything that made it wondrous to live in is gone, too. There are no more rounded tower walls. No more turrets. And I’m guessing there’s no more herb growing on the roof. (Although, I am highly considering trespassing to climb up the roof and check.)
I can’t blame the new owner. The location is sublime. Perhaps that’s what makes me so sad about the knockdown renovation. The “castle on the hill” was something the town’s children looked up to on their daily rides to school. It was fodder for the deepest and most shallow imaginations, because it was attainable. Youngsters rode their bikes up the steep hill to pass the home in person, to see the sun hit the turrets up close. They saw that it was nothing more than an old house that had fallen into disrepair. Or perhaps they saw something of magic as creatures such as snakes, lizards and mice ran in and out of the home’s unpatched holes, making the Castle their own.
I’d always thought I’d buy the Castle someday. Now perhaps I’ll find a way to make it live on in a cartoon on the other side of the world.
Katie Langrock is a
nationally syndicated columnist.