A few years before my father's death, I discovered that we had some Greek roots somewhere on my father's side. I discovered it accidentally - was looking at my grandfather's photo - my father's father who died in 1969, before I was born, before my parents were married - and it struck me suddenly that his face was so not Slavic. Funny, because I was used to his face and it had never occurred to me before that he looked too beautiful, too dark for a Russian that he officially was... :) So I asked papa an obvious question - obvious for Ukraine: "Papa, do we, by any chance, have some Jewish ancestors?" And he responded so untypically softly - and somewhat vaguely: "No, as far as I know, not. But we do have some Greeks down there somewhere." And that was it. I didn't pay much attention then, didn't really care. And then it was too late, no one left to ask for more information...
One year after papa's death, we were at the Aegean Coast, and there was a bartender at our hotel, Metin, and the moment I saw him, I told Misha: "He looks exactly like my grandfather." And I spent two weeks staring and smiling at him, and on the last day, I took a picture of him, and asked his name, and back in Moscow we compared his picture to the picture of my grandfather, and Misha - whose eye is perfect, you know - said it was almost scary how similar they looked. And that area of Turkey is very complex ethnically - all the "population exchanges" with Greece in 1923, and Lesbos is 6km away, etc. - so who knows what Metin's roots really were... And I took it as a sign, as a tiny message from papa...
Sometime around the second anniversary of papa's death, I was at a bookstore here in Moscow - and Charles Aznavour's book, a Russian translation, basically jumped right at me from the stand, and I bought it, because Aznavour was one of my papa's favorite singers - partly because he reminded papa of his father, my grandfather... Amazing, isn't it? I took it as another sign, another tiny message from papa... One of the first texts in that book was about being a grandfather - which only re-confirmed my feelings...
I don't really feel Greek because of this discovery - the little that I know of the Greek politics kind of scares me, actually - but I do feel that it explains something about me, about why I'm drawn to certain places, people, languages, and, above all, the spirit, why I could never resist it. And the fact that I hate our winters so much... Then again, on my mother's side, we have some mysterious French ancestors, too - as mythical as these Greeks, no info on them whatsoever, except for a few half-forgotten mentions and the dark, not-too-Slavic looks that two of my grandmothers had, something which my mama somehow hadn't inherited at all - obviously, due to her very blond Czech grandmother, my great-grandmother... :)
My grandfather, Sergei Andreyevich Khokhlov:
Metin, the bartender from Kanara Hotel:
And what I wrote in 2008:
I can see not just my grandfather in [Metin], but my father as well. His smiling eyes. It's crazy, because I could never really understand what my father and his father had in common. And now I do.
P.S. A soundtrack to this post - Artur Meschian's Yerkir Hnamya ("Ancient Land"), a beautiful Armenian song - some of you may not see the connection, but it's enough that I do:
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