After a few days in Athens – staying as couchsurfers with a pair of great anarchists – here we are on our way to the island of Euboa. We are going to spend some ten days with Greeks who, for two years, have taken up the challenge of settling in the fields. In the coach driving us away from the capital city, a middle aged man sadly tells us : « but… you know there is no beach there, don’t you?! ». For the time being, the landscape we passing through on the mountain slopes, is just magnificent and we are not sorry to leave Atehns, the “concrete city” as the inhabitants have called her, behind us. Yiannis, one of the boys from Stagones comes to pick us up in his pick-up in the little village of Vlachia… and it proves very useful to face the end of the road which turns into a trail through the mountain. Then we walk for a while on a path which winds amongst the trees… before reaching the site of Stagones, perched in between the sea and the mountain! (the possibility of taking the dip does not seem so far away at the end of the day).
Nikos, Yiannis and Natalia, the initiators of Stagones, have lived through various experiences before choosing they wanted to live away from the lights of the city and embark on this adventure. Nikos, 29, studied economics for 6 years before turning to organic farming and learning the trade in in various farms as a voluntary labourer. Yiannis, 39, started his professional life as an engineer in industrial building, then he worked in tourism. After living and working in a town, then working in a town and living in the country… he decided to live AND workin the country. They met in a workshop on baked earth building methods, organised by the Cob Gr network… before becoming the co-organisers of training periods for the same association. It seems that the workshops see nice meetings happening since it is also in such a workshop that Yiannis and Natalia (then a student reading architecture) met… Once the idea was launched, then they only had to find the site…
Andreas and Stella, a couple of friends, had already chosen to leave the town to settle on the euboea island. Nikos and Yiannis (and other friends, family, voluntaries…) helped them build a small paradise that they took us around. A small house, with a structur made of wood and straw bales, an outside kitchen, a cob oven, and even a wonderful kiosk! After working on the site for three years, Yannis, Nikos and Natalia decided to buy a site in turn, a little higher still in the forest.
Why “Stagonès” ? « It means ‘drop of water’ in Greek, Yiannis tells us I remembered a painting representing the world in a drop of water. This image appealed to us, and we decided to choose this name … but don’t jump to conclusions! We had to to choose a name for practical reasons » A word which is a good omen, when we know that they bought the plot of land and picked up the challenge to connect it to a spring in the mountain. Listening to the neighbours’ advice, they eventually found one a few miles away, and they set long hoses to the spring, making sure that their work does not disturb the natural balance of the surrounding areas. The spring is supplied by the rivers till the beginning of summer. Then, they have to rely on the reserves stored in two huge tanks.
When we ask Yiannis about the organisation of the community life, he corrects us in a nice kind of way : « in fact we chose not to be described as a “community”, to avoid being locked up in a dogmas. Here, there are no predefined rules, except the rule of common sense. For instance, you are not going to be told to come here if you are not a vegetarian or any other stuff like that…. » To evidence it, one of the new comers did hang a big piece of ham on the ceiling, in case…). Many people come to Stagones, some for a few days … and others for a chunk of their lives, if they like it here! Each and everyone finds his place according to his skills or desires «we share the costs for food or the common needs such as water reserves, but above all we share our knowledge and our experiences…» Dimitri who has been here for a few months is an excellent chef who enjoys cooking almost every day for the whole gang. He is also a welder, second to none. He decided to live here after his family’s firm went bankrupt. His parents left to find work in Germany… and he decided to stay in Greece. Dominique also joined the gang on the way. This English carpenter seems to have been living various lives. From India to Australia, he went through France as well, and built many houses before becoming a teacher in England for some time, where he met Natalia (who was a student in the architecture school in those days) who invited him to Stagones. He fell in love with the place, became friends with the boys and made his skills available to the project. Now he is thinking about buying a plot of land in his turn… A little further lives another Yiannis. Before choosing this type of life, he used to work in advertising: « I used to like inventing short stories… But in 1991 it all changed, I was asked to imagine adverts to create new needs. I just could not do that, that is mapulating! So I left this work … and I bought a small plot. ».
Stagones is not an eco village either. And it comes out of Dominique’s mouth: « for me, eco house and all such new concepts mean nothing at all! The house must be nice and lively, and its beauty comes from its shapes and natural materials. My key word is “build sexy! » !» The first two houses were built in bales of straw coated with cob. Thanks to dominique’s help, they designed a nice wooden structure which has been turned into the common life place and the outdoor kitchen. The solar panels provide the electricity for the fridge, a washing machine and even the internet « If we had to leave, those two houses could be completely taken to pieces. There would be nothing left, apart from the eight concrete pillars, » says Yiannis. We understand that the road is far away and that must have been a problem when it came to transport all the materials needed to build the house and to prepare the land « In the beginning, we brought a certain amount of beams and straw bales in a wheelbarrow, on the path … then Dominique arrived and he came up with the idea of building the flying fox : a zipline through the trees. It did boost the site ! » Even if that complicated the work, it was in fact a real choice to be far from the road. Natalia tells us « When you have to carry each item yourself on the path to the house, you do learn to choose between what is essential and what is accessory. For me, the house must be there for you .. and not the other way round! When I was a child, my parents’ was always spotless : we could leave fingerprints on the worktop since it was absolutely clean! Here it is the other way around : you can drop something on the floor without having to wash since it is an outdoor kitchen… My mother spent her life cleaning, clearing up… I simply did not want to follow suit !»
One of the boys takes her around. We find the solar shower, hidden in between the leaves and the dry toilets: a nice cabin, high up, made out of recycled shutters… And when you are using the toilets, you have a beautiful view over the mountains. Dominique tells us laughing : « it was a big discussion: was it necessary to keep such a beautiful place for that? I was in favour since, and it must be remembered, we do spend a great deal of time on the toilets ! ». Compost is used after a few months to feed the fruit trees they planted.
We have arrived at a time when it was rather quiet, which enables us to discover this place and its inhabitants in a soft introduction. « The first year, we worked such a great deal, almost 10 hours per day, since we started from nothing ! Yiannis says. Now we are trying to slow down a bit to get our strength back. The vital elements are there: two rooms, an outside kitchen, water, a few platns… but there is still a great deal to do… » Nikos introduced us to the various terraced kitchen gardens surrounding the two houses. He gives great care to tomatoes, courgettes, salads… according to the “natural agriculture” developed by Masanabu Fukuoka (that Francesco also used in his kitchen garden at the la Casetta del nibbio in Italy). The production is only in its teething stage, but they are hoping that soon they will produce enough to get their own food. Nikos says « do you realise the work put in by the generations before us to build such stone terraces and cultivate here? And then … the factories settled in the region, and the farmers left for the town to find jobs which would not be so painful. Nature took over, the forest came back… and here we are again, a few years later, clearing up those former terraces…»
The end of our stay here is marked by a workshop. It is the opportunity for the group to transmit their knowledge, to make their project known and the make the site progress. Some thiry people come to learn the cob technique and help build the new outside kitchen: a bread oven and a big worktop. The participants have motivations similar to those people we met in the previous workshop. After studying, a life in town… many would like to turn to a way of life closer to nature, and be less dependent on the whims of “economic science”, slowing down in Greece as everywhere else in Europe, it seems… Dimitri sums it up« our grandparents had to leave the country to find a job in town. Our parents toiled so that we could go to university… We followed that path … and we realise today that what was actually hoped for is neither desirable nor appropriate. So we go back to the country but, malaka, not to live as they did in the Middle Ages ! »
The place for the outside kitchen was chosen because it is a magnificent point of view over the sea, and because it is a little away from the two houses. Since if Stagones is an open place, it is also important for the permanent inhabitants to have some kind of privacy. Andreas and Stella also told us that they somewhat became victims of the successful work they did on their plot : «many people come to see the house, some with a real wish to understand/learn, but others simply because they are just curious to see the eco house… Moreover, this year, and against our wish, we sometimes had to close the gate to avoid seeing surprising visitors in the garden !…»
Each and every evening, after the workshop, we all gather around Tassos, a senior bouszouki player from Thessalonica, who has somewhat become the uncle from Stagones. The soft melancholy of his oriental tunes under the stars (and the hot wind blowing from the south) makes us feel that we are not far from Turkey !
Our stay comes to an end, and we are moved to leave this happy gang who made us so welcome and offered to share a chunk of their life with us… We were hoping to leave with lighter bags, and yet we are leaving laden with small ‘homemade’ gifts and amongst them an envelope filled with seeds entrusted by Nikos « to exchange with those people you are going to meet on the road … and so that when you come back, you can create your garden with plants from the whole world ! » In the meantime … we have made up our minds, we are going to do our utmost to disseminate the great energies given to us, hoping that we will be lucky and meet other people who are so generous and inspiring.