Romanoff, who died a little more than a week ago in London, was
a longtime resident of Manhattan, along with his wife Mimi (pictured
right with Alexander). He was a very familiar face
to the social set, particularly in cultural circles.
His name often brought him notice from some stranger
who might wonder if the prince were related to those Romanoffs Nicholas
and Alexandra which of course he was. His
presence was also remarkable in that he was tall, willowy,
with a very pallid complexion, and eyes that seemed (to
this observer) to express the memories of the pain and
anguish of his doomed forebears.
saw the Romanoffs fairly often. Princess Romanoff,
Mimi to her friends, is a very warm and friendly woman with
a fascinating background and pedigree of her own. She was
born a Niscemi, to a noble family in Palermo. Her family
home, the Villa Niscemi, still standing, was also the birthplace
of a close relative, Fulco Verdura, the international
jewelry designer. Mimi and her sister Marguerite were
the last owners of the villa (which I photographed on a tour
of the property outside Palermo two years ago see
archive), and gave it to the city of Palermo which now uses
it as the Mayors office.
I never knew Prince Alexander except to say hello to. He had a diffidence about
him, a certain shyness that tends to evoke a corresponding shyness in me, if
that is possible. As gregarious as I am by nature, I too tend to be shy when
in the company of the less gregarious. I tell myself that it is out of respect
for their wishes, although Im not so sure of that explanation.
In retrospect, I do regret that I never did take the chance or make the opportunity
to talk with Prince Romanoff because it turned out that we shared similar interests
in history, and he, unlike me, had in some cases a deep and even scholarly
knowledge of it.
came from a background that is hardly imaginable to most
of us. Not so much for its splendid and even outrageous heritage
but because it was one so mentally isolated from most folk.
It was a heritage of privileged luxury anchored to a way
of life that can be described as unreal and unrealistic except
to its habitués and their retinue. Calling another
human being your highness or your excellency or your
grace seems almost quaint in this age of rocketry and
ever-threatening annihilation. The idea, for example, of
referring to a British royal as sir or maam rather
than by their name is an absurdity. It presumes a respect
that is far from mutual and, considering some of those who
bear the titles, even ludicrous.
the other hand, men like Prince Romanoff, who came a generation
after the great fall of a monarchy, but was brought up in
its ever-present epilogue, had to adjust to our world,
to the real world all the while living
in the previous psychic state of his parents and their forebears.
These men and women, when they are wise, have a special knowledge
of life and the historical experience, that eludes most of
us. They too, often know poverty, or something close to it,
so that the fellowship of human experience is also within
Whether any of this was so, or not, with Prince Alexander Romanoff, I shall
never know from firsthand experience. From across the table, or across a room,
or even in passing on the street, he had the bearing of a very kind and sensitive
man who had lived, did live, in a world that was maybe too much with
us .... An intriguing fellow, to be sure.