Livadi is hanging on a slope of Olympus Mountain at an altitude of 1160 meters and it is inhabited by Vlachs, members of a tribe of highlander Greeks, who were latinised by the Romans and speak a language similar to Latin. At their majority they are breeders, mule drivers and woodcutters, who live an authentic life on the mountain and into the forest. Even the children's toys have to do with trunks and animals there. At the same time when other villages are in decline, Livadi keeps its people at it and preserves its rare customs.
"Gkini vinish, tsi phatsi?" (welcome, how do you do?). This is the Vlach greeting Stella Kratsiotis used as she welcomed us into her home. "Gkini, voi hits gkini?" (fine, how are you?), answered my Vlach friend, who set up the interview with Stella.
"What do I think when I shepherd my goats? I think of wolves and the possibility of them eating my goats, and wonder where I might find a shady place to rest, what else? Last year the wolves ate eight of my goats and a dog. Once I saw the goats jumping around in fear. The wolf had bitten one of them on the neck and was getting ready to eat it, but the dogs intervened and saved it. Another time, I was lying under a fence when I heard a noise. I stood up and saw a wolf standing frozen in its spot. I was scared to death and by the looks of it so was the wolf. I yelled loudly and it ran off, but then it circled to the back of the herd to eat the animals. They always do that; they are smart".
After the wildfires of 2007 in the Peloponnese, Greeks anxiously awaited the forest workers who barricaded the slopes of the burnt mountains with tree trunks. They were viewed as saviours. But how many people wondered where they came from and how they learned this job?
"Based on Greek mythology and the ancient statues we thought that Greeks would be thin and fit, but instead we saw many overweight people and especially children. We were impressed by the beauty of the Greek women, but they would be much more beautiful if they controlled their weight".
"In the morning, we collect oregano, wood and other materials to process in the workshop. Then someone plays the flute in the forest and we close our eyes and walk along a path between two ropes following its sound".
"We're talking about poverty here. Do you think that horses don't eat much? How am I supposed to feed them? Each one of them eats a tone of barley per year, not to mention the hay. Three thousand euros isn't enough for me to buy a horse, plus five hundred for the saddle and the leads. The cheapest chainsaw reached the price of a thousand euros. All these years, I only have a tyrannical life to remember, and nothing else".
"We used to stay at home all the time, we didn't know any cafés or other places to go out to. We've only finished primary school, but we often talk to well-educated people at work. We learned to cook from our grandmothers and mothers. Important people come here to eat. A convention took place in our village a few years ago and we made a buffet for about a thousand persons. We used to be 130 of us women in the association, but only eight of us remain".
"Like all men don't wear the same size of clothes, animals need different kinds of saddles as well. In the previous years, animals used to get sweat and hurt by heavy loads. The animals experienced poverty just like people did. People couldn't get enough of food, how were they supposed to feed their animals? Few people used to feed them, the rest of them just left them in their fate, wandering in the mountains looking for food".
"At first I used cowhide (red and black leather) to make strong shoes for mule riders. They had nails in the soles so as not to be worn out too quickly. Then I used to make sewn shoes as well, which were fashionable for grooms. Nowadays there are still some aficionados who insist in ordering sewn shoes. They seem to like them and pay good sums of money for them. In the last few years though, I was hardly making by with my job, as the price of leather shot up because of the appearance of industrial shoes. From 30 drachmas per kilo it reached 15 euros and counting".