During the two previous days there had been storms, the first heavy rainfall of this year’s winter. Together with Stratis in the car we were moving slowly along the narrow, muddy dirt road on the mountain. All around us, stones, rocks and animals – mainly goats but also sheep, cows, dogs , horses.
From a distance, we saw them sitting near a pile of stones. They had leveled off a small area and, sitting on two chairs at a table, they were having their coffee. Around them three small goats, one sheep and two dogs. “They are still babies, I feed them with a nursing-bottle, I keep them separately from the rest. I’ ve given names to all the animals, the baby-goats are “Laurito”, “Sarantoula” and “Omorfoula” (“Little Beauty”) and the baby sheep is “Antonio”, after the lead-male-role in a Brazilian series on tv. My own name is “Stavroula”, but everybody calls me “Stavrini” – my grandmother was called “Stavrini”. My husband Antonis was not a shepherd. He comes from Krete – he came to Chios in ’75 to serve his military service. In ’77, when he was discharged from the army, we got married. I was 15 years old when I first met him. I married young, because I wanted to leave home, get away from my father – God rest his soul, he was a very hard man. My mum, I never knew – she died a few days before I turned one year old. I was the youngest of seven siblings. Whenever I could, I would go down from up here, walking seven kilometers to go to school. I really wanted to get an education! But my father wouldn’t let me. We were constantly on the move, one time here, another time in Dafnonas, then in Pyrgi. But I was enrolled in the school of Vrontados, it is from there that I got my Certificate of Primary Education. I can’t do sums on paper, whenever there is need I do them in my mind.”
Right now, Antonis is outside , under the rain, to gather up the animals. “Glory be to God, Antonis is a very good man, he loves me and I love him, we live together beautifully. We haven’t got many animals for the present, about a hundred, we are now building up our herd, now that Antonis is unemployed. I have a vet in case of need, but I know most things. I look at the animal and I Know immediately if it is sick and what it suffers from. I am there next to them when they are giving birth, the main thing to pay attention to is that their little heads come out right”.
High on the iron entry door, there is a sign-post that reads “MOUNT ASTEROUSIA STREET, THE LITTLE PARADISE” and under it a metal plate with the number “42”. “Our house in Krete is in the Municipality of Asterousia, in Herakleion, it’s for this reason that I wrote it like this. The plate with the number “42”, I found thrown away and I picked it up. This area here is called “ASTIFIDOLAKOS”. My grandfather’s sheepfold was here, it was called “Bouladiko” then, but here was nothing, only the enclosure and a lot of stones. It is us, during these last few years, that we fixed up everything, the little kitchen, the small house, the little terrace for the summer, the trees. We have fifty-two olive-trees, but also quince-trees, blackberry-trees, fig-trees, peach-trees.
Saint Paraskevi has come to me in my sleep four times. We built this little shrine in the sheepfold inside the enclosure, because to build something outside it, requires official building permission. But now we are building this bigger one, stone by stone, here in the pile. We are going to put a roof to it, we ‘ll also put a door so that animals don’t come in. I want someone to write all this down, so that the history of it stays on, so that when I die, people will know about it and they will come to light the votive lamp. There were villages here, Merovigli, Fountana, … that’s why there are all these piles of stones. The correct name for these piles is “chouvela”, but nowadays they call them “piles”. In Fountana there was an old church, “oldchurch” my father called it, and I said that it must have been a church dedicated to Saint Paraskevi, because she came to me in my sleep, and it was she who showed me the exact place to build the shrine. I have an icon of her, I took it to the church of Saint Mattheos to be blessed – after 40 days of its being in the church I will bring it here”. She shows us the rock on which they carved the date they began building the shrine.
A lot of people come by here, but the best occasion is every Thursday, when our friends come when it gets dark, and we eat, drink, laugh. We stay up here at least two days a week. We stayed here yesterday because of the bad weather so that we could take care of the animals.
They say that there was an old woman living here, who had hidden a treasure in the “chouvela”. There is an old rhyming couplet about it : “Front and back of the pile, when the rays of a rising sun hit it, the greatest treasure is there.” People have come looking for it, but they found nothing. Also the Ephorate of Antiquities came and they made this observation point. I am the last one to have grown up here, I know all the tracks and pathways, they have been covered up by vegetation now and you cannot find them, but myself I can take you everywhere from up here. We took the herd down, one day’s distance on foot to Pyrgi. We went right down to the outermost point of the land in Cape Oura, opposite the rocky islet Venetiko».
When we came out it was still raining, they showed us what route to take to reach the last sheepfold. After a while all was drowned in the fog.
In its original form, this article was posted in aplotaria.gr, in December 2016. Translated into English by Nikos Loutraris.