As I noted in the post about our trip to the mountain villages surrounding Herceg Novi, Montenegro, a certain part of that adventure gets its own story. We wound and wound and wound our way up the mountains, hosted by our ever-curious and always-lively landlord. As the roads became smaller, less paved, and more winding, we drove through the forest and ended up in what I can best describe as a town pulled straight from the archives of history.
Our landlord explained that this town, called Žlijebi, is noted for its unique stone houses and interlaced limestone roofs. The town looked like it had about ten inhabitants. I asked how many, and he seemed to think there were less. As if the intricacies of this village weren’t enough, we began to walk down a gravel road, past drought-ridden plots used for farming and up to a well-known church.
I honestly can’t tell you the exact name of the church, but it’s known for the wonderful views it provides of the bay area here where we currently reside. We spent some time looking at the architecture and the seemingly ubiquitous, gorgeous panorama views. As we tend to do when we find ourselves in cemeteries, we began looking at the old tombstones and imagining stories of the people who now lay below our feet.
Before long, two other people showed up. They were having a look around, and as has proven to be the case time and time again, our landlord began chatting with them. Next thing you know, we were all talking and were invited to walk back to Žlijebi. We had no idea why, but what the hell, right?
The two people in question were Spiro and Jovan. Spiro was born and raised in Žlijebi, and Jovan is his right-hand man. Spiro left the village to find a job in his youth, and as many people in this region do, he found himself working in the shipping industry. This career took him across the world many times, eventually grooming him into a ship captain; and after that, a recruiter in the shipping employment industry.
Our landlord, Ang, Spiro, and Jovan…
As I’m sure everyone knows, people who find themselves to be so successful generally move on in life, and don’t spend a whole lot of time looking back and appreciating where they came from. At least, not at Spiro’s level. But, Spiro is different. Spiro came back to Žlijebi. While he lives and works in the city, Spiro spends all of his free time in Žlijebi.
Why, you ask? Žlijebi is falling apart. People have moved away and there aren’t a whole lot of families left. While it might be fantastic for people to drive through, just to see these houses, it’s not appreciated as a destination, and if someone doesn’t take care of it, it might eventually turn into a Life After People moment that we’ve seen all across this great nation. And Spiro isn’t having that.
Despite the village being attacked and burned during World War II, despite age and weather and abandonment, despite the turn of the clock and the passing of time, the village is here. His parents’ house – the house where he was born and raised – still exists. The barns and the granaries and such are all there. The land is still there and all of the little buildings and nooks and crannies are all there. In a state of disrepair, but there. I should say that they were in a state of disrepair…but Spiro came back. And Spiro changed all that.
Taking on quite a massive hobby – one that may as well be a second job – Spiro put the weight of Žlijebi on his shoulders and decided to rebuild all of these things. He spends all of his free time here, working with a crew of very skilled men, tirelessly restoring and rebuilding every corner of his family’s land.
A home for livestock has become his house here, and it’s mostly complete with several bedrooms, amazing stone and woodwork, and pictures of his family that had us asking for stories about each and every one of his nearest ancestors. As is the case in villages all across the country, the requisite smokehouse is also in place and getting its share of action.
Outside, an old barn is being turned into a tavern and restaurant. All of its tables are made of the finest aged, local wood.
And if you look up…Oh, you must look up.
These roofs are a dying breed. Almost no one knows how to make them anymore, so you find rebuilt houses sporting modern-technology knockoffs that keep the original look but have none of the original flavor. Fortunately, Spiro and Jovan know all about them. And because of that, Jovan and his team of restorers can rebuild these roofs the way they were meant to be built.
And while I might have been a little afraid that one of these massive stones would fall on my head, I was rest assured that their skills and a clear history of roofing success would keep me safe. However, that doesn’t mean that I was paying attention and didn’t smack my head on a low door frame. Because I most certainly did.
Outside and just above the childhood restored home, we find the very large home in which Spiro grew up. The shell and roof have been redone; but inside, we find a cavernous, two-story building with no upper floor and no interior finishing. This, Spiro says, will become a small hotel for visitors to Žlijebi. He intricately describes his blueprints for a few rooms and a few bathrooms, a new floor, and all of the amenities that will host visitors to the village.
Back out the door and standing under rows of hanging grapevines, Spiro continues to tell us about his rural childhood, the good times of a kid growing up in this self-sustaining village; and unbelievably, how he and his peers used to walk for hours down a hiking trail – down a mountain then back up – just to go to school and back, every day.
While I certainly cannot imagine how fun this may or may not have been, Spiro revels in memories of his childhood. And even though he is sad at the state of the village and its crumbling buildings, his eyes have been lit up with a youthful enthusiasm for the entire time we’ve been here.
This is most certainly Spiro’s passion; he’s determined to rebuild Žlijebi as it should be, and as it once was. He doesn’t care if the tavern is never filled to capacity with visitors, or if the hotel never packs people in every weekend. He simply wants to retain the history of a wonderful place, one that he knows better than anyone else.
And our admiration for where he’s been, how far he’s come, that he’s come back, that he’s doing what he does, and for who he is as a person, is something for which we have the utmost respect.
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