Father and Sons
The Russian government has designated 2008 the Year of the Family. You might have seen posters around town advertising this campaign. (And if you haven’t seen the poster of the woman holding her triplet babies that says “The country needs your records,” then you haven’t ridden the metro lately.)
Since Russia has set its sights on the family lately, Passport thought it might follow suit and invited two generations of one Moscow family to sit down and hold forth on being a father, a son, a Russian…and a family.
Text Annabelle Kaplyagina
Photo Denis Manko
Ivan Turgenev explored the generation gap in his 1862 novel about the father-son dynamic. In that work, Turgenev brought into relief the intellectual and emotional schisms that can occur between Russian generations based on personal differences as well as philosophical and moral ones.
Today, Moscow is home to another notable and interesting multigenerational family, the Ordovsky-Tanaevsky Blancos. But while in this clan all the possible fault lines — generational, professional, national, and even linguistic — are present, in their company one can focus only on the unities among them. From multiculturalism and polyglotism to morality and work ethic, these people specialize in straddling different worlds, focusing on the commonalities and not the points of division.
The father in this story, Rostislav, is the proprietor of the Rosinter restaurant empire, whose familiar brands include Il Patio, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Planeta Sushi. The sons are Konstantin, 26, and Vadim, 14. Together, these three men are a model of the Russian family that Turgenev could perhaps not have envisioned. At the same time closeknit and respectful of each other’s individuality, this crew challenges Tolstoy’s assertion that all happy families are alike.
With three passports to his name (a Russian, a Spanish, and a Venezuelan), Vadim is a cardcarrying citizen of the world. Born in Venezuela and educated thus far in Moscow, the remarkably poised teen will start 9th grade this fall at a boarding school in Britain. Konstantin was born in Moscow, where he lived until going to boarding school in Britain at age 13.
Both Konstantin and Vadim speak fluent Spanish, thanks largely to the efforts of their father. Born and raised in Venezuela, Rostislav’s first languages were Russian and Spanish, and he wants to make sure his children do not lose the linguistic tie to the Latin part of their background. As a child, Konstantin spent one summer in Venezuela and another in Spain specifically to learn Spanish. He then attended a school in Moscow that had a focus on the language in order to keep it up. Rostislav speaks to Vadim almost exclusively in Spanish.
Of the advantages of growing up in a multicultural family, Rostislav comments on the merits of exposure to the different — people, cultures, etc. It prepares you, he says, for the challenges of life in an increasingly globalized world. Moving among cultures always came easily to him — he never felt cultural alienation, even in the 1980s, when he spent a lot of time commuting between Venezuela and Russia. He attributes part of this ease to the multicultural environment in which he was raised.
In response to the same question, Vadim notes that he and his family “are not patriots of one country but of several.” Despite spending most of his life in Russia, Vadim says he feels a connection with Venezuela and with Spain (“I was born in Venezuela, and one quarter of my genetic information is Spanish because my grandmother is from Spain”). He also remembers arriving in Russia at the age of 4 and being able to understand his grandparents but not respond since he was not used to speaking Russian.
Rostislav echoes this multiplicity of national ties, saying he is emotionally “tied to both Russia and Venezuela.” In his case, he acknowledges that growing up in an émigré Russian community in another country led to a mythologizing of Russia. This mythology was debunked by reality only in 1984 when he was able to start visiting Russia.
The first time he came here, he could recognize the difference between the Soviet system and Russia itself, and his love for the country was confirmed. He felt a kinship, even though it was completely different from what he had expected.
In contrast, both of Rostislav’s sons grew up in Russia, albeit at different moments (Konstantin in the 1980s and Vadim in the 1990s), making impossible the sort of mythologizing that can occur from a distance. And in fact, Rostislav notes that the gap between the mythologies about Russians and Russia that he grew up with — and that were jarred when he started traveling to Russia and experiencing it firsthand — are starting to close as Russia evolves. For example, the suspicion, lack of trust, and culture of fear, as well as the learned helplessness that comes from a repressive regime, are receding.
All three men feel Russian and are nothing but grateful for the multiplicity of inf luences that have helped shape them. They are proud of their Russianness and Russian culture, naming hospitality, a willingness to help, and a penchant for toasting to friends among the most salient features of russkaya dusha (the Russian soul). All three agree on the uniqueness of the Russian character and consider themselves to have it, their other cultural inf luences and allegiances notwithstanding. Vadim, however, does bemoan the growing intolerance of foreigners he has noted in Russia of late.
Rostislav traces his entrepreneurial impulse to an early age, illustrating it with a story about his experience in boarding school in Venezuela when students had to buy textbooks for classes. He bought a large quantity of the books wholesale and was able to offer them to his classmates at a discounted price. The brothers do not see themselves having the same entrepreneurial flair as their father (Vadim notes that he couldn’t sell books to his classmates because they are thoroughly steeped in the digital age), but they express deep admiration for their father’s business acumen.
What is notable about this family is not the absence of a generation gap or a lack of differences in views but an ability to overcome these potential wedges. This harmony, however, was not always easy to come by. Konstantin acknowledges the differences between his own and his father’s experiences growing up, which made communication and understanding more difficult. Adding the different cultures and experiences to differences that already exist between ages and roles, certainly made for some tension at times, Konstantin recalls. Both father and son agreed that it took some time before Rostislav began to see things from Konstantin’s point of view. Rostislav added that he was glad to have developed the capacity to see through his son’s eyes, a lesson his own father perhaps never learned.
All three men pointed to their mutual admiration, natural empathy, and capacity for growth as the key to intergenerational harmony. But having certain natural inclinations in common hasn’t hurt — all share a general aplomb and charisma. Vadim’s sociability and ebullience are abundantly clear, and it is these very traits that the more reserved Konstantin sees and admires in his father. A touch more wistful than his younger brother and father, Konstantin eventually overcame his natural modest to admit that he, too, is very sociable, calling himself “a good listener.” Of his father, Vadim says he admires his ability to see things through: “He always stays with whatever he begins until it is done.” Among the traits he admires in his sons, Rostislav names Vadim’s natural search for fairness and Konstantin’s good-heartedness and sense of responsibility.
In a final gesture to Turgenev, the Ordovsky-Tanaevsky Blancos discuss how much they have learned from each other, admiring and aspiring to be more like one another. Konstantin puts particular emphasis on his father’s capacity for change, noting that his father has learned from him when it comes to raising his younger brother. Interestingly, there is significant overlap among the traits they admire in each other and those they attribute to having learned from one another.
For his children, Rostislav wishes happiness and the ability to live in harmony with their consciences. He stresses that he would like them to find their talents and find a way to apply them and that will make them successful and happy. Note to Tolstoy: It seems all happy families are not alike.