How's Bayou? 'Louis, Louis' on N.Y.E.
So how did we end up on a picturesque river barge docked on the River Seine near the Palace of Versailles this New Year's Eve?
I'd always loved to welcome in the new year surrounded by family and friends at Madewood, dawdling over a banquet, contributed to by all, as the final hours slipped away.
In the 1970s, as midnight approached, we'd gather around a gas-log fire in the library as Inge O'Quin, our Hanseatic manager at the time, gave thanks for her blessings and regaled us with chilling stories of how she had just managed to crawl from under the rubble of the Vienna State Opera House moments before the sets of Wagner's Gotterdammerung came crashing down near her during the bombing in World War II.
Makes you realize just how lucky you've been the last year, doesn't it?
But Inge never lingered long over calamity, though sometimes English words of joy failed her.
"I'm happy as a log,” she’d purr. "Let's all gather round and sing 'Old Enzyme.'"
So, as tradition demanded, and the lights of Louis XIV's extravagance flickered kilometers away, I serenaded Millie with our traditional, "We'll drink a cup of hydrochloric acid yet, for Old Enzyme."
New Year's Eves at Madewood got serious after Millie and I married in 1981, merging friends as well as lives; and 1982 was the beginning of our annual gala gathering. At the time, we had a thing called disposable income, and I bought Millie a used BMW 321i to replace her aging Pacer that had suddenly started shifting into reverse without warning while traveling at a neat clip along I-10.
The bimmer was black with gold hubcaps (perhaps explaining its remarkably reasonable price), a DJ's dream audio package of mixer, balancer and equalizer in the glove compartment . . . and a complete surprise to Millie. After everyone had oohed and aahed over the flashy vehicle, we began preparing dinner, which went on well past midnight.
We'd decided to make formal attire de rigueur, and I remember watching smoke curl up from a long, delicate cigarette holder at the opposite end of the table around 2 a.m. It was pure Noel Coward, who, by the way, was equally charmed by Inge when she visited him in Jamaica. (Imagine what he could have done with "Old Enzyme.")
There were good years and bad, but we always enjoyed delicacies such as the gougeres, tiny power-packed cheese puffs lovingly crafted by our friends Dale and Doug Curry, that always flew off the plate. There were years when almost no one showed, and others when invited guests showed up with a slew of extras; but it was always fun.
Then there was 2007.
No one celebrated much the first two Decembers after Katrina, so perhaps our guests were simply releasing pent-up energy.
Early in the evening, as Millie drove with G. (identities purposely obscured) to purchase fireworks at a nearby roadstand, he casually asked, "Did you hear what B. (female) just gave M. (her husband) for his birthday? An AK-47! It's in the trunk of their car."
Millie, stunned, wanted to know how much it cost, but otherwise kept a calm demeanor as they returned to the arsenal we called home.
"Yes," B. confirmed when asked. "He really wanted one. And it wasn’t that expensive."
After assurances that the stash would remain in the trunk that evening, the fun began in earnest. G., stoked by the knowledge that there was an assault weapon nearby, decided it would be a grand idea to up the ante with the recently-purchased bottle rockets and divide the assembled guests into warring factions who would shoot them at one another across the broad swath of front lawn, a blessedly-safe distance from the mansion.
By this time, knowing the AK-47 was nearby, and possible fireworks injuries in our future, I attempted to discourage combat, but to no avail.
"I'm going to bed," I informed the troops with resignation. "I don't want to be around when it happens."
"The lid of the toilet seat in my room is loose," one guest accosted me as I stumbled off to blissful oblivion. "Is it OK if I take it off and use it as a shield?"
Millie tapped me awake an hour or so later.
"No one's dead or bleeding," she assured me. "I'm coming to bed, too."
The dawn of 2008 broke with soft pinging noises in the distance. What at first sounded piquant turned out to be M. on the prowl. He'd lined up all the empty champagne bottles on the ironwork fence surrounding the old Pugh family cemetery at the rear of Madewood at dawn and was systematically picking them off one by one.
That was our last group New Year’s Eve at Madewood.
New Year's Day 2012 broke softly for us under French down comforters and with the sure knowledge that B. was safe and sound, as she and M. had split shortly after the champagne-bottle massacre.
As I slowly awoke, I couldn't help but wonder if Louis XVI had hosted similar parties -- and if the furor of the French Revolution heading toward him at Versailles had sounded like champagne bottles exploding in the distance.
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.