Introduction: At the September 28, 2017 Homage to Leonard Cohen organized by the Museum of Jewish Montreal, Chantal Ringuet presented, in French, An Open Balcony as an Au Revoir to Leonard Cohen. Her English translation appears below with some colloquial English editing on my part. Part I and Part II were read at the event; Part III was added afterwards. A video of the presentation can be found near the end of this post.
PART I. November 11, 2016, 1:00 am
What a sorrow. I just learned three hours ago that Leonard Cohen has left us. I was actually in Westmount, sketching a portrait on Victoria Street, a few blocks from Shaar Hashomayim, the synagogue Leonard attended as a boy. It is the Shaar Hashomayim Choir that can be heard on his final album, You Want it Darker. When I got into my car, Hallelujah was playing on the radio. My first thought was: it is rare, nowadays, that we hear Cohen’s version of Hallelujah playing on the radio. There must be some kind of special occasion. My second thought was: since Trump’s election yesterday, perhaps Leonard Cohen will take this as an occasion to leave this world. Two seconds later, I read an email from a friend that he had indeed died. Suddenly, I was totally overwhelmed with sorrow – and how could I not cry in these circumstances? I went to the mountain, to a special place I go whenever I want to gather myself or be alone during important moments. I gazed down on the city’s landscape, the city where he had been born and that he loved so much. Then, I told him I loved him, I thanked him for everything, and I wished him to rest in peace.
As for me, it all started, in a way, with Leonard Cohen – Montreal, Jewish literature, love, poetry, exile… And the quest for transcendence, a quest that he pursued until the end.
And now, I head towards the Parc du Portugal, in front of his house, in order to tell him “Au revoir” for the last time. Hineni, hineni. Here I am.
It is a tremendous loss, even if we knew that it was coming, even if he had warned us n the letter that he wrote to Marianne Ihlen, his love, his muse from the old days, when she herself left this world, a few weeks ago.
I am happy to have paid him tribute with our book, Les révolutions de Leonard Cohen, published last April (2016), and I would like to thank my allies, notably Gérard Rabinovitch, the co-editor, and the eighteen authors, who participated in this enterprise. Because I — from his poems, his songs and his novels, his voice — I received a lot. He colored my life in a unique way in my teenage years; and again when I arrived in Montreal, and still again much later – and that, of course, I will never forget. I believe he has helped many of us cling to life at certain moments, some beautiful and others difficult; I think that, for many of us. his words and his music made life good to live, .
I was later surprised to learn that Leonard Cohen had actually left us a few days earlier, on the night of Monday, November 7, 2016. On that evening, our book Les révolutions de Leonard Cohen was launched (for a second time) at Concordia University. During those last hours of his life, our little group of scholars and students (among whom was writer Naïm Kattan) had accompanied Leonard Cohen in thought, gathering around this book that celebrates his œuvre in his beloved Montreal. I see in this a hymn to love and beauty, an encounter created by the alignment of the stars that sealed my relationship to the great poet that he was and that sealed his own relationship to Montreal and to all the Montrealers who loved him so much.
PART II. November 12, 2016
Earlier, I went to the Hommage à Leonard Cohen: A Perfect Offering. A small crowd gathered in the Parc du Portugal to sing his songs, while in front of his house, people, as they had every night since his death was announced, left objects, lit candles, said private prayers, and took photos. I ran into many acquaintances, and we gratefully exchanged a few words.
I wondered what to leave in front of his door. I first thought of flowers, and then of a little stone in the Judaic tradition. Finally, I concluded that a book was the best idea. I immediately thought about the book I had co-edited about him. But somehow offering a book on Leonard’s own work felt strange. Finally, I decided to leave on his doorstep my book À la découverte du Montréal yiddish [Discovering Yiddish Montreal], which depicts (among other things) the history of his neighborhood. Since Cohen had opened the road to Jewish Montreal for me, this gesture seemed particularly relevant. I shared that notion with a sympathetic journalist I know and who had known Cohen personally. He exclaimed, “But someone will take your book!” “Yes,” I answered, “after the commemoration, someone will take this book – at least, I hope someone will; then, it will reach another reader.” And this is exactly the beauty of this story: from Cohen to me and then through that book, a path is opening, a kind of transmission which leads to somebody else – someone who will have gone there, in front of his door.
At the precise moment I left my book among the flowers, the candles, and the other objects, photographer Jacques Nadeau from the francophone newspaper Le Devoir was taking photographs. He later sent me one. This image is, above all, that of a commemorative site that had grown enormously since Thursday night. With all the bystanders, with the peaceful atmosphere that permeates it, it had become very beautiful. People cry, they move around and they confide to each other. All this thanks to Leonard Cohen, whom we already miss so much, and who has left an important mark on this city.