Hydra: a pilgrimage to Leonard Cohen’s Greek island retreat

Hydra: a pilgrimage to Leonard Cohen’s Greek island retreat

The tiny Greek island that so enchanted Leonard Cohen in the 1960s still captivates today.

Legendary songwriter and Philhellene Leonard Cohen, the hugely influential singer and songwriter whose work spanned nearly 50 years, passed away on November 7, 2016 at the Age of 82.

Leonard Cohen in Hydra

Hydra: a pilgrimage to Leonard Cohen’s Greek island retreat

Among the many fans who mourned the passing of Cohen were the residents of Hydra, the small Greek island which held a special place in the heart of the iconic musician and poet.

In September in 1960, six days after his twenty-sixth birthday, Cohen bought a house in Hydra for $1500, using a bequest from his recently deceased grandmother. This was a "big deal" in the words of one of his friends, a commitment to place and a world that was mysterious and unusual. Buying the house was a complicated act, needing the assistance of his friend Demetri Gassoumis as translator, adviser, and witness to the deed.

Cohen later said that it was the smartest decision he ever made. The tree-story, ancient whitewashed building, with its five rooms on several levels, was run down and had no electricity, plumbing or running water. Yet it was a private space where he could work, either on the large riled terrace or in his music room on the third floor.

Cohen described his home to his mother:

"It has a huge terrace with a view of dramatic mountain and shining white houses. The rooms are large and cool with deep windows set in thick walls. I suppose it's about 200 years old and many generations of sea-.men must have lived here. I will do a little work on it every year and in a few years it will be a mansion... I live on a hill and life has been going on here exactly the same for hundreds of years. All through the day you hear the calls of the street vendors and they are really rather musical... I get up around 7 generally and work till about noon. Early morning is coolest and therefore best, but I love the heat anyhow, especially when the Aegean Sea is 10 minutes from my door."

Here Leonard discovered the Greek way of life - its alternating rhythms of work and leisure, both on the seasonal and daily basis, which are so conductive to creative thought and achievement.

Leonard Cohen Dancing

It was on the island where he worked on some of his best poetry, writing and songs, (or it was here that he was reborn, where he truly began to find himself, where not least, the music of Greece entered his soul, evoking earlier memories and melodies, combining with them to suggest a new style, a new mystique.

And it was here, that he met Marianne, a young woman and together for 10 years or so and the song "So Long, Marianne" was written to and about her.

Cohen had a relationship at the beginning of the 70's with artist Suzanne Elrod, with whom he had two children; a son Adam and daughter Lorca.

Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen on his beloved Island

Days of Kindness

Greece is a good place

To look at the moon, isn’t it

You can read by moonlight

You can read on the terrace

You can see a face

As you saw it when you were young

There was good light then

Oil lamps and candles

And those little flames

That floated on a cork in olive oil

What I loved in my old life

I haven’t forgotten

It lives in my spine

Marianne and the child

The days of kindness

It rises in my spine

And it manifests as tears

I pray that a loving memory

Exists for them too

The precious ones I overthrew

For an education in the world

 Hydra, 1985

*Some of this information & images first appeared and was sourced from-  leonardcohenfiles.com/hydra2.html

More Visiting Hydra? This is where you should eat

GCT Team

This article was researched and written by a GCT team member.