‘lovely Leonar­dos’

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

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

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