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How's Bayou? Flames I have known

Brother Don and nephew William Marshall inside Patrick Dougherty's 'Do Tell,' an impressive twig sculpture outside the Bascom art center in Highlands, North Carolina.

Yesterday, Nov. 19, 2012, I turned 66.

Am I now two-thirds Satanic?

I remember, while visiting Manhattan in the 1960s, being told in hushed tones that the Top of the Sixes, a skyscraper with the numbers 666 emblazoned across the top, was a frightening manifestation of The Sign of the Beast.

This recollection got me thinking: Have I properly prepared myself to be predominantly demonic?

What terrible thing might I have done -- for instance, in my Christological year, 33, halfway to 66 -- to make me, perhaps in someone's eyes, a Fiend?

It couldn't be blatant. Manifest evil wouldn't do. It had to be cunning, subversive, not obvious to the naked eye.

The paintbrush! That was it.

In December 1979, Millie and I were still dating. Her apartment on Madison Street in the French Quarter was a bit worse for wear. Her beloved Rhoda, predecessor to the equally adored Millie Dog, had, over several years, peed the finish off the hardwood floor; and the off-white walls had grown dull. Something had to be done.

I knew just what to do: For Christmas, I'd give her the gift of fresh paint (the floors would have to wait). So I found a sassy card, taped a tiny, cheap paintbrush inside and wrote a cheery note about how I'd repaint her living room for free in the new year.

Great gift, right? Surely I'd be a hero in her eyes.

She seemed befuddled as she read the card, then evasive. Silence.

I later learned she'd cried for hours. What my gift said to her was that we wouldn't be getting married anytime soon, and it might be a good idea for her to have a cheerier place in which to live.

Highlands fireman at the bonfire (Photo by Keith Marshall)

Bingo! It fit the bill. Generous on the surface, evasive and self-serving underneath. The Dark One, I thought, must have been proud of me.

We weathered that hurdle; and now, 33 years later -- how symmetrical! -- we were sitting in the recently-painted living room of our vacation condo in Highlands, North Carolina, contemplating a bonfire planned for Tuesday night at the nearby Bascom art center, where powerful winds from October's Hurricane Sandy, reaching into the mountains in the west of the state, had blown down an immense twig-and-branch installation by noted sculptor Patrick Dougherty (a really big deal) .

Now, as it lay fallen, irreparable, the powers that be had decided that immolation was the proper end for this local monument, which sits near the covered bridge that the Coleman family of New Orleans had restored as a donation to the Bascom.

The upcoming ritual fits right in with the painting of the end of the world, by self-taught Donaldsonville artist Alvin Batiste, that hangs over the living-room sofa in Highlands. I'd renamed the piece "Rapture at the Cochon de Lait Festival," as the flames leaping up from several pits depicted in the work seemed to me to surround simmering pots of tasty tidbits of pork. In fact, as Alvin later explained, they are hell holes with demons writhing in delight as they contemplate the devastation around them.

Funny how wrong a former art critic can be.

It also reminded me of the embroidered piece of cloth that Millie bought me on a birthday spent in Guatemala. Mythological male gods are depicted dancing around a leaping fire that dominates the scene.

Preparing us for Tuesday night, when who knows what demonic tricks I'll be up to.

(Note: A picture of the bonfire will post here later.)

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 juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.

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.