A perspective from the second generation of an immigrant family

As I sit in comfort, in a condominium apartment overlooking an arm of the large lake Mälaren which empties in the Baltic Sea at Stockholm, I count my blessings. I soon will have completed eighty-six years of living, am in good health, and have a small but sufficient degree of financial security. I love and am loved. This includes friends as well as family.

I attended university in the USA and continue to pursue an extensive informal education. I have books, recorded music, a few objects of art, mementos of my travels, photographs. I attend local musical concerts, visit museums and parks. I correspond with people thousands of miles from me, some of whom I haven’t seen in decades, some I’ve never met in person.

Over one hundred years ago three of my grandparents left Greece to settle in San Francisco, California. They could not even dream of having the riches which I enjoy by virtue of their grit, determination, family solidarity, and some luck on my part.

I came to Sweden twenty years ago as an immigrant from the United States, but under different circumstances which drove my grandparents to leave their homeland. I traveled comfortably, under no duress, to be with the woman I love.

I see parallels, nonetheless.

These parallels reside in the immigrants now coming in great numbers to Sweden and other European countries from the Middle East, North Africa, and other regions of the continents of Africa and Asia.

The conditions which drove my grandparents to leave Greece were poverty, lack of opportunity, political instability, and war always on the horizon.

These are also the conditions driving many of the current immigrants to Sweden with the addition, in some instances, of ethnic and religious conflict, actual war, drought, and the threat of famine.

Are there lessons in my family’s experience to help current immigrants to Sweden to imagine and work toward a future for their grandchildren, a future similar to that which I enjoy?

I don’t like to give advice, nor am I prone to preach. With trepidation, therefore, I say only these things in response to my own question:

An immigrant may feel like he or she is treated like a second-class citizen. In some cases this may be so, but mostly perception this will arise from mutual ignorance and misunderstandings about cultural differences. We need to talk with each other.

In order to talk with each other, we need to speak the same language, the local language. One of the blessings I have in Sweden is that English is almost an official second language. I am marginally adept at spoken Swedish (my hearing is significantly impaired). This has not inhibited me from having Swedish friends and successfully navigating the environment.

I am a citizen of the USA and also of Sweden. I feel American (West Coast variety), am learning to feel Swedish, and do feel Greek by virtue of my family’s origins. None of these is mutually exclusive; rather, I perceive them as enriching.

Due to past migrations, there are Swedes who are also Chilean, who are also Serbian (a neighbor-friend), who are also Russian (a former Soviet/Russian diplomat lives in my neighborhood), who are Bulgarian (a dear friend), and so on.

Although an immigrant loses much that is left behind in one’s homeland, he or she loses nothing by becoming Swedish, and will gain a larger perspective of the world we share.

Welcome, fellow immigrants, and Swedes.

My Latest Letter to Fred (may he RIP)

Fred Pape died seven years ago. He and I exchanged around 300 letters with each other over our later lives. After his death I couldn’t stop writing to him for around 18 months. I still write the occasional letter, which is a way to maintain a diary or memoir.

I herewith share an edited version of my latest letter

Saturday, 17 September 2022

Eh, Fred,

Last missive was Monday, January 25, 2021.

I re-read what I had then written and find that the needle hasn’t moved very much, except that the Wuhan Flu is effectively behind us, and we are free to move at will. I will get shot #5(!) within the month ahead, just before I leave for a trip to the US&A to visit Andrea and Greg, (my daughter in Phoenix, Arizona and my son in Medford, Oregon).

The ‘Big Blank‘ is still ahead of me at, now, age 85. What does the future hold, and so what?

I am evermore inclined to regard my universe (that which I perceive and imagine) as do the folks imbued with certain Eastern Ways: an illusion. Maya is one name for this:

maya, (Sanskrit: “magic” or “illusion”) a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably in the Advaita (Nondualist) school of Vedanta. Maya originally denoted the magic power with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion. By extension, it later came to mean the powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real. For the Nondualists, maya is thus that cosmic force that presents the infinite brahman (the supreme being) as the finite phenomenal world. Maya is reflected on the individual level by human ignorance (ajnana) of the real nature of the self, which is mistaken for the empirical ego but which is in reality identical with brahman. (Wikipedia)

Zen Buddhism, as you know, shows us that emptiness is form/form is emptiness.

I’m currently reading K. by Roberto Calasso. Here is a précis of the book:

What are Kafka’s fictions about? Are they dreams? Allegories? Symbols? Countless answers have been offered, but the essential mystery remains intact. Setting out on his own exploration, Roberto Calasso enters the flow, the tortuous movement, the physiology of Kafka’s work to discover why K. and Josef K.–the protagonists of The Castle and The Trial–are so radically different from any other character in the history of the novel, and to determine who, in the end, is K. The culmination of Calasso’s lifelong fascination with Kafka’s work, K. is also an unprecedented consideration of the mystery of Kafka himself.

My inexpert summary of one element presented in the book: no thing is what it seems simply to be, connected as any thing (any seeming-‘thing’) is on higher and lower planes with concentric circles of existence which ultimately cancel each other out or combine into a mythic whole.

What do I get from all this reading and pondering? A vague feeling of non-ordinariness. A feeling/sensation of the consciousness that there is a curtain between me and what may or may not be reality that I could easily push aside with a bit more effort than I have heretofore exerted. I seem not to be in a hurry to push the curtain aside, but the curtain seems ever more transparent so the pushing aside may not be necessary.

An inhibiting force, mild but present, is my feeling that should the curtain disappear, I may find that my relationships with other people may change in ways that I would currently find uncomfortable, undesirable.

I have been reading, also, the writings and biographies of the “Beat” poets and writers who emerged in the late 1940s and 1950s. Many of them pursued ‘enlightenment’ in India and Japan, and through psychoactive drugs. Perhaps some succeeded (I’m thinking primarily of Gary Snyder).

I have thought about this notion quite a bit and have the opinion that one doesn’t search for it, but one grows into the world where it may find you. There is too much ego in such a search. I remind myself of the Zen proverb: “Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Well, Fred, this letter has transformed into a blog article.

Thanks for listening.

“…how to fill in the long gap between now and the grave…”

Dia na perasome tin ora… to pass the time…’ How often this phrase crops up in Greece! It is the password to hours of enchantment like this morning or to long doldrums of tedium; it poses the whole problem of how to fill in the long gap between now and the grave.


“Often, from its inception, one is able to predict the whole course of a village conversation, what topic will unleash another, where the sighs and the laughter will come, the signs of the cross and the right hand displayed palm outwards and fingers extended in anathema; where heads will be shaken or the edge of the table struck in indignation with an index-finger doubled up. They unfold with the inevitability of ritual.

“Old jokes are best and even at their hundredth repetition the laughter than salutes them is gay and unjaded.”

From “Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese” by Patrick Leigh Fermor

There is no one left, not of my age…

This is a complaint, a cry, with no one of my age and of certain shared experiences to listen.

If the three in this picture, other than I, were alive I could share this link [since broken, an old comedy], then reminisce with Diane, or Patricia, or Fred; then, we probably would make odious comparisons between the innocent and truly funny comedy of yesteryear and the expletive-laden and coarse, or relentlessly political ‘humor’ of today.

Old friends gather at the home of Andrea Pavellas Slosarik and Ken Slosarik, 2007: (L to R) Diane Pavellas, Patricia Larsen, Ron Pavellas, Fred Pape.

The link above takes you to one of Johnny Carson’s shows in 1992 when he had as guest performers the Smothers Brothers, Dick and Tommy, who are at and within two years of my age. Johnny Carson, now dead, was 12 years older. I saw the Smothers Brothers perform, gratis, at San Francisco City College where I was attending, 1958-1960. They were just starting out and became very popular within a short time. They were Californians, as I was, and when they became wealthy, they bought and developed wineries in the wine region of Northern California.

There is much to say about them and Johnny Carson, but I can’t, not with those who would understand the underlying nature of the times and places we then lived in.

I struggle to find words to describe the feelings that this recorded performance and these memories evoke, that wash over me and thrust me onto a barren beach. A kind of emptiness, a hollowness, an ancientness.

I cannot go further.

I don’t cry, for I have already accepted my circumstance. But I do, deeply, miss my friends,

… and truly funny comedians.