Leonard Cohen’s Greek island haven bids balladeer farewell

Leonard Cohen’s Greek island haven bids balladeer farewell

Among the legions of fans mourning the death of Leonard Cohen at age 82 are the residents of Hydra, the small Greek island which held a special place in the heart of the iconic musician and poet.

"This was his haunt," Stavros Douskos, owner of the Xeri Elia tavern in the island’s port capital, said on Friday upon hearing the news of Cohen’s passing.

"We have good wine, and he loved to play his guitar here," he told AFP.

Cohen bought a 19th century stone house on Hydra, a 90-minute hydrofoil ride from Athens, in the early 1960s, a time when the island was a haven for bohemian artists.

"I was writing novels, putting books of poems together," Cohen reminisced in a 1988 BBC interview filmed in his Hydra hilltop house.

"We'd get up early, and have breakfast, and I'd go to work… I think I was on speed too, so I wasn’t eating very much."

"I had a quota, I think it was three pages a day," he said.

During a seven-year spell there, he wrote "Flowers for Hitler," one of his most controversial poetry collections, his first novel "The Favorite Game," and "Beautiful Losers," a book about religion and sexuality that prompted comparisons to novelist James Joyce.

And the song "Bird on a Wire" was inspired by an electricity cable right outside his window.

This is also where he met his Norwegian muse and lover Marianne Ihlen, to whom he dedicated the ballad "So Long Marianne."

"I just got off here. Somebody spoke English and I rented a house for $14 a month," Cohen said in the 1988 BBC documentary, Songs from the Life of Leonard Cohen.

"I met a girl, and I stayed for 8-10 years," he said.

After a pause, he adds with a glint in his eye: "Yeah, it’s the way it was in those days."

Just before Ihlen died in July, Cohen wrote to her: "I think I will follow you very soon."

"Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine," he wrote.

Douskos said Cohen "stopped coming to Hydra a few years ago after walking up (flights of stone steps) to the house became too taxing for him."

"But his son Adam still visits," he adds.

Douskos says that a poem dedicated by Cohen to his tavern still adorns the back of the menu.

"It’s a poem describing the daily life of the Hydra sailors," said the island’s mayor Yiorgos Koukoudakis.

In the past, local authorities have worked closely with Cohen fans to host concerts and screenings honoring the artist on the island, the mayor said.

Now, the street in front of his house will be renamed in his honor, and a Leonard Cohen bench will also be installed at the harbor.

And a meetup of fans already scheduled for June now assumes special meaning, adds the mayor.

"It will be an opportunity to do something organized in his memory," he told AFP. [AFP]


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