A while ago––I know now it must have been 2010––I read an article in the Times about a rundown mansion in the Hudson Valley (I thought that was it) that housed the eccentric members of a blue blooded American family and their various guests and tenants.  The house sounded like a bohemian dream, sheltered from the outside world by hundreds of acres and the thick atmospheric padding of centuries of history.  I wanted so badly to write to the inhabitants there and ask if I could come stay a while, but I quickly forgot all of the important details of the piece, namely the family’s patronymic, where the house was, exactly, and what they called the house.  I searched on the Times with every weak combination I could think of, usually a combination of “bohemian,” “family,” “mansion,” “Hudson.”  Of course, I got nothing.

Then yesterday I was sitting in Union Station in Washington DC, painfully full of steak and feeling inexplicably melancholy (considering I’ve been in relatively high spirits as of late.)  I started to read the latest Smithsonian magazine and almost tossed it aside, as I felt plagued by an old jealousy of the writers whose work was featured, and the fascinating, productive people they profiled.  But I idly skipped to the book review section at the end, and found a review of a forthcoming memoir from HarperCollins entitled Astor Orphan.  Below, a description via HC’s website:

The Astor Orphan begins in Alexandra Aldrich’s tenth summer, at the moment when her father returns home with an alluring Frenchwoman. The interloper sets into motion a series of familial feuds and disasters that unmoor the last remnants of Alexandra’s family life.

But as Alexandra reveals, the origins of her family’s disintegration can be traced back to the Gilded Age when the greater Astor legacy began to come undone, leaving the Aldrich branch virtually penniless and squabbling over what little was left.

Alexandra grew up in the servants’ quarters of Rokeby, the family’s beautiful mansion, foraging for her next meal, battling for dominance with her wealthier first cousins, and striving to get her pathologically distracted parents to take care of her. Amid the chaos and squalor of the household, the young girl, forced by circumstances to become wise beyond her years, rose promptly at 6:30 each morning, adhering to a strict schedule of exercise, cleanliness, and intensive violin practice that imposed order on her anarchic world.

Illustrated with sixteen pages of black-and-white photographs that bring this faded world into focus, The Astor Orphan is Alexandra Aldrich’s heartrending story-a memoir of staggering power with the unflinching pathos and grit of The Glass Castle and the faded glory and madness of Grey Gardens.

Of course!  Rokeby!  I immediately went back and found the original article and was entranced anew.  (Aldrich is a convert to Orthodox Judaism!)  Now the only things left to do are:

1. Decide whether or not to purchase the book––doesn’t sound like my usual fare, but it’s gotten very good reviews, and I do freaking love Grey Gardens

2. Find the street address for Rokeby (I came close; it’s possible they have no mailbox.)

3. Think of a good excuse to visit/stay for a vacation, and write to ask them if I can come.


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