The No Worries Palace

Whenever anything changes — in a room, in the fridge, in my hair length — Sky notices it immediately.  He cried for days when my husband got a new work truck. He stomped in protest when we started redoing the kids’ bathroom — then, like a squatter being forced out of a neighborhood mid-gentrification, he begged us to please, please just keep the 70s-era vanity bar light over the sink where he brushes his teeth. Please! Someone around here has a flair for drama.

So I shouldn’t have been that surprised last week when, the second I flipped open my laptop, I became the subject of a brutal interrogation. “What happened to your desktop? What happened to that other wallpaper you had? What happened to the No-Worries Palace, Mama????

The No-Worries Palace is the Palais Sans-Souci, near Haiti’s mountainous northern city of Cap Haitiën. (The term “sans souci” is more often translated as “carefree.”) It was built between 1810-1813, the royal residence of Haiti’s only king, the tyrannical and more-than-a-little-paranoid Henri Christophe. Modeled after the Sanssouci Palace in Pottsdam, Germany, it is a ruin and a miracle, long dubbed an eighth Wonder of the World. And when Sky saw it on my desktop for the first time, something about it — the ghosts of dukes and barons, the majesty of those skeletal columns — pulled him in completely. “What is that?” he said softly. “Who lived in it? Can we go there?”

I could call myself brilliant, but actually, this was an absolute fluke. These days, if a story about a fortress doesn’t involve Han Solo or an escape pod, it’s a nonstarter. And it’s hard to compete with 3D books about young Jedis you can buy with one click on Amazon. But somehow, without my having planned it, Sky was spontaneously connecting with a place I barely remember myself.

Legend has it that King Henri was a drummer boy in the American Revolution, serving in a black regiment of the French military in the siege of Savannah. A slave turned mason (turned waiter turned billiard maker), he did a lot more than bang drums when revolution came to his own country; he helped lead Haiti to independence in 1804, the only successful slave revolt in history.

From there, it gets a little less age-appropriate: despotic rule; the deaths of thousands who labored to build that palace and the massive, even more majestic Citadelle fortress nearby; suicide by a silver bullet. Stuff like that. But the 6-year-old version is cool. Not quite as cool as Star Wars, but plenty cool enough.

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