How’s Bayou? The allure of Midnight
The way things were: A vintage photo of Madewood, in the days before vacuum cleaners and electricity.
I’m almost certain that Woody Allen consults the online guest-review Web site Trip Advisor.
Not to check up on his favorite little restaurant in Rome, of course, or to read reviews of the Hotel Meurice in Paris before deciding to shoot chunks of the enchanting “Midnight in Paris” in that venerable establishment.
To get new ideas for films.
After being swept away by the director’s latest fantasy last weekend, I think it’s just possible that Trip Advisor is where his Eureka! moment regarding the illusory nature of a “Golden Age” in the past came from.
Imagine Woody in a dimly-lit room, leering squinty-eyed over his laptop, weary from nights of reading guest reviews. If he’d stumbled across Madewood, he would have encountered the alluring title of the first review:
A wonderful trip back in time
And right after that, a review from -- take note of this -- a French guest: Nuit de reve a Madewood Plantation (Dreamlike night at Madewood Plantation)
“I slept one night at the Madewood Plantation,” the guest wrote, “and it has been the best stay I ever had during my vacation. Magical Mansion, it was like I went back to the 19th century with today's comfort. I slept in the Nursery room which was situated in the front of the Plantation with a direct access to the balcony. Furnished with beautiful and antiques pieces of furniture, it's was also like I lived in this house for ever.”
OK. So the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein and Toulouse-Lautrec never stayed at Madewood. Faye Dunaway did. And a Legion d’honneur couple married by then-mayor-of-Paris Jacques Chirac. Also, a cousin of QE II. Don’t forget the black-sheep brother of a famous entrepreneur. And a bunch of opera singers who went on to wow crowds from the Met to La Scala.
In the film, actor Owen Wilson’s character’s journeys back to so-called Golden Ages were enticing; but, when he finally realized that the present is just as good, if not better, than any time in the past, I thought: This guy would understand running an historic house and dealing with guests’ expectations of a visit to a mansion from our past.
First, let me state unequivocally: I’ve reveled in the past, but I far prefer my lifetime.
Years ago, I took a wonderful French lady, whom I thought of as Tante (Aunt) Helene, and the iconic fashion designer Erte to lunch at Maxim’s in Paris. I had just as much fun at Maxim's as Owen did in the movie. But I paid for it the following day when I took my wife, Millie, whom I was dating at the time, to the mid level of the Eiffel Tower and bought her a ham sandwich. I had no idea my secretary had told her about the lunch at Maxim’s the day before.
Owen gave up Marion Cotillard that night at Maxim’s. Fortunately, Millie never gave up on me. Chalk up one for my present.
What Woody and Owen realized is that some folks have particularly erroneous views of a Golden Age in the past.
At first, I was offended by a review posted by descendants of the builder of Madewood. Most members of that family compliment us on our preservation of Madewood; but there is a small but dedicated group that can’t accept that Madewood today is better than it ever was in the past (if for nothing less than the blessing of central air conditioning).
The reviewer, who just stopped by for a complimentary visit, excoriated us for defiling the family’s “heritage.”
“Upon entering,” the writer commenced, “you are aware that any glamour, charm or southern style has faded to [sic] its former glory.”
Remember the mid-19th century? No electricity, no vacuum cleaners to ensure the stairway carpet’s really clean, no Goddard’s silver cream to keep the silver doorknobs sparkling. And just what is “southern style”? Probably best not to go there . . . too many answers.
Ignoring the fact that the house was closed at the time, with no possibility of anyone sitting down to dinner, the disillusioned descendant continued:
“The dining room is set for a dinner party that looks like it was to take place months earlier and no one showed up.”
I’ll just assume that these visitors had read Faulkner’s short story “The Bear” on the way to Napoleonville and become fascinated with the idea of stasis, a moment when time stands still.
But as far as the no-shows at that imagined dinner party goes, it’s just possible that the horses bolted from the carriage that had picked them up on their way to Madewood, tossing them into the bayou, and clean back to into the mid-19th century.
Picture this showing up in the archives: “Dear Tom and Eliza, We were so sorry to miss what we are sure was a breathtakingly lovely dinner party in your absolutely perfect Madewood. The horses ran away, and dear Billy was struck by a steamboat coming along the bayou as he tried to paddle back to shore. Please invite us again, dear cousin Eliza. Billy no doubt will be limping, but I’ll run right up those steps into your welcoming arms! Ever your loving, Esmeralda.”
The archival photograph at the top chronicles what "Esmeralda” might have seen as she approached Madewood on the way to dinner with the original owners.
What really shocked me was that the writer didn’t like Faye Dunaway’s table. He (or she) belittled the glass-topped rattan table that the actress had requested during her stay at Madewood. It proved popular with guests, so we left it; but to this person, it was proof of the irrevocable decline of the family’s “home” in the hands of interlopers, i.e., us.
So, Woody: Why not get Faye all cranked up about how those people don’t like that table in her room at Madewood? Have her get the vapors, fall back on the bed (which the descendants actually liked) in a deep sleep and meet up with Warren Beatty in their shootout scene from Bonnie and Clyde. After all, it took place just up the road in Bienville Parish.
But this time they’ll be gunnin’ for anyone who says Madewood isn’t better today than ever before.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.