Greek Island Books is pleased to welcome Dario Ciriello, author of Aegean Dream – a true story set on Greece’s real ‘Mamma Mia!’ island of Skópelos.
GIB: When did you first fall in love with Greece?
DC: Way back in 1966, when I was a young teenager. My parents took me to Athens and then to Alónissos in the Northern Sporades chain. The island hadn’t yet got electricity; in fact, it didn’t have a harbor! My first memory of a Greek island is the ferry dropping anchor out in the bay late at night, and my parents and I climbing down a rope ladder into a rocking caïque by lantern light. That first night seemed so primitive and our accommodations so spartan that my parents vowed we’d leave on the first ferry the following day. Of course, when we saw the beauty of the place in the morning, breakfasting on yogurt and figs on a high terrace with a spectacular view of the bay, we were hooked. We stayed two weeks.
GIB: How did you start writing?
DC: I was brought up in a house full of books and my father was a journalist. My earliest memories are of his typewriter clacking away late at night as I lay in bed, so I guess you could say writing’s in my blood. I still have my first story, a dark, brooding piece from when I was about ten… I must have been reading a lot of Poe at the time. But I only began to write seriously back in the mid-nineties. I had my first short story published around 1998, and then attended Clarion West—aka ‘Literary Boot Camp,’ a six-week intensive program for speculative fiction writers—in 2002. After that I sold a few short stories and wrote my first long work, Aegean Dream, in 2008.
GIB: Have you written any other books?
DC: I’ve just completed a novel titled Sutherland’s Rules. It’s a caper/thriller about two old guys who really ought to know better embarking on an insane last hurrah which will likely cost them their freedom and quite possibly their lives. Publication is loosely scheduled for early Spring 2013 by Panverse Publishing.
GIB: How do you feel about Greece’s current plight? What do you think the outcome will be?
DC: I think it’s a complete and utter tragedy, and my heart goes out to the Greek people. We could see it shaping up during our year on Skópelos in 2007, and our experiences in Greece clearly illustrate why the country was headed for a catastrophe. But you can’t blame the Greek people, only their corrupt politicians and terminally broken institutions. The suffering ordinary Greeks are enduring under the EU-imposed austerity measures is heartbreaking, and it won’t do any good at all. I think the country should have defaulted and left the Eurozone back when the full extent of the crisis first became apparent. There are no good choices—none—but at least if they dump the Euro, as I believe they will, they’ll regain some measure of autonomy and national pride.
GIB: What’s the funniest experience you ever had in Greece?
DC: We were returning to Athens on the bus with two foodie friends used to the very finest dining. We’d brought some leftover food for the trip, but no liquid accompaniment. So when the bus pulled in at the familiar roadside rest stop halfway to Athens, I ran in to buy some inexpensive retsina we wouldn’t mind chucking back in the few minutes we had. The golden fluid in its plastic bottle looked for all the world like fresh urine, or perhaps a thin industrial lubricant, and cost even less: our gourmet friends were about to sample the worst wine-flavored slop that Greece could muster. We drank the stuff from plastic cups and accompanied it with a princely snack of crackers spread with cheap tinned paté, as well as a nice hunk of féta and a few olives, spread out on a disemboweled plastic shopping bag for a tablecloth. The retsína—which under other circumstances we’d have poured down the nearest drain—was warm, thin, and utterly delightful. Ten minutes and a liter of the vile stuff later, we climbed back on the bus, laughing and happy.
GIB: What are the best and worst meals you’ve ever had there?
DC: The best meal? There were at least three I can remember, all wonderful in their own right. One was our first meal at the celebrated Le Grand Balcon restaurant on the roof terrace of Athens’s St. George Lycabettus hotel, looking out over the rooftops of the city towards the illuminated ruins of the Acropolis and the twinkle of shipping in the blackness of the Saronic gulf far beyond. Another was our first meal—mezés, really, small dishes served with drinks—at the Ouzería Gorgónes on Skópelos a few days after our arrival. It was a freezing November night, and the spicy Spetzofái, a country sausage stew, washed down with ouzo in front of a blazing stove, was beyond delightful. And the last was on my wife Linda’s birthday, also on Skópelos; we’d just discovered Perívoli, a charming and rather stylish outdoor garden restaurant where they grew their own vegetables and tomatoes. It was the first time either of us had eaten Arugula salad with pine nuts and shaved parmesan, now a standard at our house.
The worst meal I ever had in Greece was around 1973. It was a transitional period of my life, in that I’d become a vegetarian without properly considering the challenges of the venture, given that I actually disliked most vegetables. One evening at a simple taverna I found myself going through the limited menu trying to find something I could eat with an increasingly irritated waiter; at the end of which—between my impossible food requirements and our mutual lack of any common language—he slammed down a plate of raw onions and garlic in front of me and proceeded to stand over me, murder in his eyes, while I ate it.
GIB: What’s your single most cherished memory of Greece?
DC: How to choose? Warm summer evenings spent with my wife on our rooftop terrace overlooking the Skópelos harbor; the sheer joy of walking every day through the ancient streets of the Skópelos hóra, one of the most beautiful and unspoilt villages in Greece and thinking, we live here; most of all, the company of the very, very dear friends we made there.