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How's Bayou? Of Birdfoot and roast pig

Birdfoot Festival dinner concert in Madewood's ballroom

Birdfoot Festival dinner concert in Madewood's ballroom

There are times you know you've done something good.

Because Madewood is like a huge ante-bellum vacuum cleaner (yes, they had them back then, powered by the push of a human hand), sucking up every dollar I can lay my hands on, I've probably appeared to be a skinflint to worthy organizations soliciting financial support that I wasn't able to provide.

My first hint that, collectively, I may have done more good than bad in my lifetime came when Yale, my alma mater, asked me to write a paragraph or two on non-cash donations to the university in advance of the class of 1968's upcoming 45th reunion (which I can't really afford to attend just now).

In the 1970s, I collected, for just pennies, almost 1,000 Victorian and Edwardian British photographs. Although they're still not worth much more than a trip to Whole Foods would cost, they have immense value for students researching Victorian and Edwardian mores in the reigns of Victoria and Edward.

I even ended up with a series of carte de visite photos of a Piccadilly actress, inscribed with amorous notes to a love interest, a young Cambridge undergraduate. The Yale Center for British Art was delighted to accept this hodge-podge assemblage for its study collection, and It's now been fully catalogued and bears my name.

Cochon and Peche's award-winning chef serves up roast pig in Madewood's dining room.

Cochon and Peche's award-winning chef serves up roast pig in Madewood's dining room.

Soon after responding to the alumni association's request, I was surprised (and delighted) to receive a letter addressed to all members of the class of 1968 about reunion gift giving. It quoted a prominent, and wealthy, class member who discussed major financial endowments and segued into little ole me and my photographs.

I was very proud that Yale, which had given so much to me as an undergraduate, felt that my contribution was equally significant in its scope and importance to advanced education.

So it was with an even greater sense of pride that I learned Sunday evening that Dash Nesbitt, a distinguished young violist who recently completed his masters degree at the Yale University School of Music, had skipped his graduation ceremony in order to participate in the past week's residency of the Birdfoot Festival at Madewood, feeling it more important than the shake of a hand and the tip of a mortar board in New Haven. At the charming and inspiring concert in the ballroom of the mansion, he and other young participants performed selections from works that the Festival will present at various venues in New Orleans this week.

As we approach the half-century mark of my family's acquisition of the house and grounds in 1964, I can look back over a multitude of artistic and cultural events that Madewood has nurtured during those years.

My inspiration was 19th-century British social philosopher John Stuart Mill, who wrote about the positive influence of English stately homes, how their lofty spaces allowed the mind to expand and wander among ideas, much as one might perambulate their endless enfilades of rooms.

An exhilarating aspect of life in these grand homes, Mill suggested, "was music; the best effect of which (and in this it surpasses perhaps every other art) consists in exciting enthusiasm; in winding up to a high pitch those feelings of an elevated kind which are already in the character, but to which this excitement gives a glow and a fervour, which, though transitory at its utmost height, is precious for sustaining them at other times."

New Orleanians can experience such transcendent emotions at sites as diverse as Snug Harbor, Tulane University's Dixon Hall, the Jewish Community Center and other spots this week (www.birdfootcmf.org for details) as the festival presents its second year of performances.

Mill, alas, was never able to experience palate-enlightening cuisine from Warehouse District restaurant Cochon, as we did in the mind-expanding ballroom of Madewood after the concert. So be sure to have a burger with extra cheddar and mushrooms for both John Stuart Mill and me if you make it to Snug Harbor.

Ultimately: We eat; therefore we are. Take that, Rene Descartes.

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.

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.