Thursday, September 22, 2016

On Letting Go

The art of losing isn’t hard to master; 
So many things seem filled with the intent 
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.  

It’s human nature to hang on. I’ve never been an accumulator of things, and I’m actively stupid about money, but that does not seem to make it any easier to let go. I made Dizzy, my dog, live too long in pain and confusion because I was too sad to let him go; delaying the sorrow didn’t make it any easier, and might have made it worse. I’ve stayed in jobs too long. I’ve lived in apartments too long. I’ve kept trying in relationships where it was obvious to everyone but me that I was wasting my time. I can look back on all these situations and see exactly where I should have walked away, but each new situation is just as hard as all the last ones were.

Last weekend I tagged along with friends to the House of Broel, a unique New Orleans structure that combines an events hall with a dollhouse museum and an exhibit of designer dresses, in a Garden District mansion that was built and expanded before The War. House tours are available by appointment only, and conducted by the home’s owner, Countess Bonnie Broel — the “Countess” is a legacy from her father, who fled Russia during the revolution.

Countess Broel is a small, glamorous, brisk woman of a certain age who distills everything that’s great about New Orleans, and possibly everything that’s great about Americans. She used to live in the House of Broel, and she used to run a couture business from its first floor. Her husband left her just before Katrina, and Katrina wiped out her business. She moved to the property’s carriage house, created a family foundation to preserve the home and its collections, wrote an autobiography and is now selling three of her dollhouses in order to protect the property after her death. She is energetic and gallant and shows no outward sign of mourning the three dollhouses for sale; she cares only that they bring in enough money to justify their loss.

The dollhouses are extraordinary. The website says they “must be seen to be believed,” and that is the literal truth. No description could do them justice. Constructed over a period of fifteen years, they are full of painstaking detail: miniature furniture, rugs, artworks, knick-knacks, and beautifully costumed figures who live imaginary lives in their rooms. Countess Broel told us that she’d begun creating the dollhouses as a project with her young son, and then become — well, she might not have used the word “obsessed,” but that’s the word that seems to fit.

The masterpiece of the dollhouse collection is a vast recreation of a Russian dacha that runs along one full wall of the second floor’s hallway, and stands at least ten feet high. The Countess said she had wanted to imagine what her father’s life had been like before he left Russia, and the result is a combination of Tolstoy and the Arabian nights, topped by an attic observatory with a tiny telescope and astrolabe.

The collection moved me, and the thought that the Countess is starting to sell it off moves me even more. The dollhouses represent so many possible lives, so many imaginary homes that are permanently luxurious and happy, never deserted and never torn apart by storms. But she seems content with her decision, satisfied with the thought of trading these precious creations for something that matters more to her.

This is what I focus on, what is directly relevant to me at this point in my life, as I too contemplate letting go of some things: what, if anything, am I trading those things for? As I let go, is it loss, or is it more like a trapeze I relinquish so I can grab on to the next one? Does letting go of one thing mean I get to keep something else, and if so, what might that be?

I don’t mean to be cryptic, only to find the universal in some specific questions we all eventually have to wrestle with. I’m grateful to Bonnie Broel and her collections for giving me a prism through which to consider them. And I wonder what my own dollhouses might look like.

Photo from the House of Broel Dollhouse Museum Gallery.

1 comment:

Moira said...

Fascinating and thought provoking. I'm intrigued.
xo, M