Aegean Dream by Dario Ciriello

Aegean Dream by Dario Ciriello is a memoir about Dario and his wife Linda giving up their good life in California and moving to the Greek island of Skópelos.  I bought this book because I met Dario back in 2002 at the Clarion West writer’s workshop.  We were part of a class of 17 wannabe writers that lived together on a 12th floor dorm near downtown Seattle while taking daily classes with science fiction writers and editors.  Most of the people were young, but Dario, Doug Sharp and I were all 50 that year.  I think we wanted to reinvent ourselves.  Dario, from Italian heritage but born in London emigrated to America in 1989, was one hell of a charming guy.  I envied his energy, grace and social skills.  He was an artist, craftsman and musician that wanted to be a writer too.  I wasn’t surprised when a few years later he and Linda moved to Greece because of his adventurous nature.  Years later, when I heard he wrote a book about living abroad I was anxious to read it.  Dario lives the way I dream of living, and since I’ve always fantasized about living in another country, this book was a riveting read for me.

Dario and Linda had visited Skópelos on vacation after Clarion West and had fallen in love with it.  Dario then convinced Linda they should move there, and they carefully planned, work to save money, got rid of possessions, and most of all, studied Greek to prepare for their trip.  I’m going to try and not tell too much of their story because I don’t want to spoil the book’s narrative as it unfolds, but I will say learning the language before moving to a foreign land paid off a 1000% dividend.

That’s lesson one for me.  I’m terrible with languages.  I got through high school German and college Spanish, but it’s all forgotten.  My friend Janis spends all her extra time learning Spanish to make her many south of the border vacations special, and so I constantly see how hard that is.  I tried studying classical Greek one semester and couldn’t handle the strange alphabet, so I’m very impressed with Dario and Linda learning Greek.  They met other British and Americans living on Skópelos that hadn’t learned Greek and making the effort to learn the language, no matter how comical the results were sometimes, allowed Dario and Linda to break the cultural barrier and make hordes of friends.

Lesson two is don’t move to another country with a shipping container full of belongings.  Dario evidently is a packrat, to Linda’s great distress, and has been moving from country to country his whole life with his family’s belongings on his back, so to say.

Lesson three is harder to explain.  It’s about being a craftsman and artist.   Linda went from being a highly paid office manager to wanting to make natural soap for tourists.  Even when you can make something beautiful that many people admire, it’s really hard to make money at it.  We live in a world where everyone wants everything to be cheap, and it’s hard to make a living making something beautiful that takes a lot of time to make.  There were many stories of small business failures in Aegean Dreams, and that’s a story in itself.

Lessons four and five are about marriage and friendships.  Dario and Linda have a wonderful relationship and it comes out in their story, and they both have the knack for making friends, even in a foreign land with people that don’t speak their language.

I recommend this book because I learned so much from it.  On one hand living in another country is like living here.  You have to shop for food, work, clean house, deal with leaky toilets, buy furniture, go to parties, the list of similarities is long.  What’s different is how people act, think and talk – all the cultural stuff.  And there’s a huge difference between the US and Greece.  And you wouldn’t know that unless you lived there, or the next best thing, read a memoir from someone who had.  Being a tourist in no way lets you learn what its like to live in another country, and this book illustrates that perfectly.

Aegean Dream is a memoir about how hard it is to be a stranger in a strange land and live by different rules.  Dario and Linda make amazing successes integrating into their new life, but had to swim upstream against a vicious current of bureaucracy.  Aegean Dream is great background reading why Greece is doing so bad now on the world’s economic stage.  Dario and Linda came to Greece just at the time when its citizens went wild with credit.  About a third of Greece’s citizens work for the government, and all have become addicted to governmental generosity.  Corruption and a snake pit of regulations make living in Greece impossible for outsiders and cruel for its own folk.

After reading Aegean Dream  I doubt I could live in another country.  The story completely convinced me what a wimp I am.  I could never have done what Dario and Linda did.  It would have crushed me.  And to be completely honest, I wouldn’t even have the balls to try.  I really admire Dario and Linda for their great adventure.  I wish my wife Susan and I could do something like that.  Aegean Dream also showed what it takes for two people to live closely together in their life, and I really admired that too.

The book describes Skópelos as a paradise of natural beauty, and parts of the movie Momma Mia was filmed near where Dario and Linda lived.  So if you got Greek island fever after watching that show, read Aegean Dream.  The movie will make you want to visit, but read the book before you plan to move there.

[You can read about Dario and Linda’s adventures and see photos at the blog he kept. But get the book for the whole story.]

JWH – 10/20/11

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