The islanders of Hydra in Greece yesterday paid their own respects to the man they knew as a good-natured neighbor, ‘Leonardos’ Cohen, the melancholy musician and poet who died this week at age 82. At the stone house that Cohen bought decades ago in the heart of Hydra’s port capital, neighbors and friends came to reminisce and leave small offerings on the doorstep. “Mr Leonardos would hang out in my father’s garden and my mother would bring him mountain herbs, olive oil and fish,” said 53-year-old sailor Yiannis Armadouros, who lives just across the winding cobbled street from Cohen’s house.
“He was a lovely man, the entire island adored him,” he added, noting how at ease the musician-poet was in the company of simple fishermen and port workers. Cohen had 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. It cost him $1,500, a sum he later claimed was one of the best investments he had ever made.
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.
The island was also where he met his Norwegian muse and lover Marianne Ihlen, to whom he dedicated the ballad “So Long Marianne”. “We took care of his house,” said Armadouros, who carries a photo of Cohen in his wallet. “He would come regularly during summer, winter and even Easter occasionally... My mother would care for his children, I grew up with (his son) Adam,” he told AFP.
Gift From a Lady
Neighbor Roger Green, a 76-year-old Englishman, came to Cohen’s doorstep to leave a heart-shaped stone on behalf of “a lady who knew Leonard in the sixties”. “He was so easy to talk to...he was courteous, humorous, intelligent, sympathetic, a great listener,” Green told AFP. Other neighbours lit candles and placed teabags and oranges, a reference to the lyrics of “Suzanne”, another of Cohen’s best-loved songs.
In a statement yesterday, Greek parliament speaker Nikos Voutsis said Greece had lost “a lover and ambassador”. Cohen “was inspired by the beauty of the Aegean, the warmth of Greek character and culture, and promoted our country abroad,” Voutsis said. In the past, Hydra authorities have worked closely with Cohen fans to host concerts and screenings honoring the artist on the island. A biennial meetup of fans had already been scheduled for June 2017.
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. Another neighbor, Sofia Voulgari, 68, said she would always miss the lullaby-like sound of his guitar that she first heard decades ago. “I would leave my mother and come here and sit and listen to him playing,” she recalled, pointing to the doorstep of Cohen’s house. “It was really nice, just like a lullaby.” — AFP