I may have mentioned this before, but The Pit has relatives living out in the country…that would be the Central Valley, outside the Bay Area, for those less familiar with California geography. Said relatives owned a dairy ranch for many years, and if you turn your eyes to my profile photo, you can see me accosting one of their adorable calves.
When talk of a wedding venue came up, these folks told me about an eccentric Dutchman living nearby. Apparently, for the last 15 or so years, this man has been hand-building a castle, brick by brick, on a plot of land in the middle of an orchard. After The Pit showed me intriguing pictures of turrets and castle walls, I decided that my mother and I had to see this place for ourselves. My grandparents joined us at the last minute, and the four of us set out for the two hour drive to the country.
As soon as we got off the freeway and started seeing miles and miles of fields and orchards, my grandmother, a confirmed city dweller if there ever was one, started oohing and ahhing. I guess she was somehow unprepared for all the open space, the lack of people and houses, and especially the presence of livestock.
Although my grandma maintains that she is and always has been an animal lover, it’s obvious to anyone who has ever watched her interact with a pet that this is not actually the case. In fact, she has always viewed animals with a kind of cautious suspicion, carefully and primly patting dogs or cats when necessary, but always maintaining a distance if possible. And now there were goats! And geese! And cows! Fenced in, this is true, but completely unsupervised, and just wandering about, possibly ready to get strike!*
* To be fair, I don’t think that she’s actually afraid of animals attacking…more like rubbing up against her and getting her pristine clothes dirty.
However, as we drove further and further away from civilization, she adjusted to the scenery, and there were only occasional exclamations about the hugeness of the fields and the scarcity of houses. By the time we arrived at our destination, she was really ready to appreciate the setting. And by the setting, I mean the huge Italian-style villa that The Pit’s aunt and uncle recently constructed on a slight rise of land in the middle of, well, basically, of nowhere.
The structure is very impressive when viewed from the outside, what with the cannon and flagpole and all, but it gets even more amazing from the inside, when you see the views out of the giant windows, and relax in the spacious courtyard. In fact, if we were having a smaller wedding, the villa itself would be a beautiful venue.
However, as the guestlist seems to grow longer every week, we instead enjoyed a lovely courtyard lunch before setting out for the two larger locations scouted for us. One was the aforementioned castle, and the other was a sort of lake and pagoda built by another dairy-owing family nearby.
First, the castle. Now when I say castle, I’m not talking about some sort of Disney-like façade. No, this is a *real* castle, complete with turrets, walls three bricks thick, and a fire-pit for roasting whole pigs. It is also being built on roughly the same schedule as a real castle…Casper the Dutchman has been working on it for about fifteen years, and estimated completion is in another fifteen or twenty years. Thus when we saw it, the inside wasn’t finished, but the existing structure could serve as an unusual backdrop for an outdoor wedding.
After the tour, we ultimately decided that the location was a little too remote and the facilities a little too primitive for our needs, but the amount of work that Casper had single-handedly put into the place was staggering. As my mother said, it was difficult for her to envision a hobby project that would take her a year to complete, never mind several decades.
The next location we visited also turned out to be unsuitable for us, mostly because of size, but was similarly awe-inspiring for the efforts that the owners had made to beautify their property. The place was a diary ranch, with typical buildings and fields to house and milk cows. However, adjacent to the cow pasture, the owners had dug out and landscaped a large lake.
They had accomplished this feat by themselves, with just family helping, for basically the same reason Casper was building his castle…these folks found that they had the space, and decided that they wanted to do something a bit out of the ordinary with it.
On the way home, my mom and grandparents couldn’t get over it…all that work, whether at the villa, the castle, or the lake, and not for some sort of financial reward, but just for the satisfaction of having built something beautiful. I trust it will not come as a surprise that the discussion ended with comparisons of Russian peasants perfectly happy to sit in shitty cow pastures for their entire lives, and much murmuring of "God bless America."
And thus ended Day 2.