“[Hydra] is a good place to work because there’s no reason to delay it to the next day: there is no phone or even electricity. There is a real civilization, by which I mean hospitality, kindness in the streets, and people blessing children.” Leonard Cohen (1976)

Do you think that your stay in Greece will affect your work habit?

quoteup2
I’m doing a lot of work there. It’s a good place to work because there’s no reason to delay it to the next day: there is no phone or even electricity. There is a real civilization, by which I mean hospitality, kindness in the streets, and people blessing children. I live in a small village – I know people who believe I own an island and a great palace, but the truth is the perfect opposite.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From ”En tunne vanhenevani lainkaan” – Leonard Cohen Soundissa 1976: The 2016 reprint of a June 1976 Leonard Cohen interview by Dougie Gordon. (Soundi: Nov 11, 2016). Via computer translation. Photo of Hydra by Marie-louise Guillard.

“What chance has a decent fun-loving literary parasite got in this world? Anyways, your cheque will keep me in hashish yet a little longer…” Leonard Cohen On Drug Use On Hydra In The 1960s

IMG_4840

 

In October 1961 he [Leonard Cohen] provided this analysis of [Hydra’s] political situation to his sister [Esther]:

Everywhere is going Communist and cleaning up corruption and poverty and charm. And the West is too expensive, rigid, and hysterical. What chance has a decent fun-loving literary parasite got in this world? Anyways, your cheque will keep me in hashish yet a little longer…

The most popular drug [on Hydra] was hashish, but acid and marijuana were also readily available. Initially, the pharmacist supplied opiates and other drugs, but soon other sources were needed. To a French-Canadian friend he wrote,

I’ve smoked quite a lot of hash and eaten a fair amount of opium. None of it’s any good really, and the O is quite dangerous. Work is better than both—and work is hell.

He later relied on a speed-like drug, Maxiton, which could be bought over the counter. He became known to his close friends as Captain Mandrax, Mandrax being an English brand name for quaaludes. By 1964 he found that hashish and amphetamines assisted him greatly in completing Beautiful Losers, in a marathon writing session.

A passage from an unpublished essay of 1965 clarifies the nature of drug use on the island.  Cohen writes:

In this part of the planet men have smoked and cooked hashish for many centuries, and as countless American and European homosexuals can testify, without sacrificing any of the vigourous qualities we would associate with a people so crucial to history, a continuous seminal history including not only the classical and Byzantine periods, but also, and perhaps most important, our own time. We who are here today believe that these lands of the Eastern Mediterranean are still the glistening alembic in which the happiest and purest synthesis of the West and Orient must occur. Islanders brew a tea from the wild narcotic poppies which is served to restless children and rebellious mules… We smoke the occasional common cigarette into which we have introduced a few crumbs of hashish. We cannot rely on this crude device to secure us the visions and insights we hunger for, but it has its use as an agent of relaxation and receptivity. On the recreational side I might say that erotic and musical experience is enhanced under its influence. My wife would not listen to Bach without it, nor I to the cicadas at sundown… The lyrics of many bazouki tunes celebrate the aromatic generosity of the leaf as it turns to ash.

From Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira Nadel. Photo by Eija and Jarkko Arjatsalo

“I shouldn’t be in Canada at all. Winter is all wrong for me. I belong beside the Mediterranean. My ancestors made a terrible mistake.” From Book Jacket Of The Spice-Box of Earth By Leonard Cohen

The full dust jacket blurb from The Spice-Box of Earth (1961) follows:

Leonard Cohen, 27, McGill graduate, gives his address as Montreal, but as this book was going to press he was enroute to Cuba. He spent last year on the shores of the Aegean Sea, writing as a result of that experience:

quoteup2
I shouldn’t be in Canada at all. Winter is all wrong for me. I belong beside the Mediterranean. My ancestors made a terrible mistake. But I have to keep coming back to Montreal to renew my neurotic affiliations. Greece has the true philosophic climate—you cannot be dishonest in that light. But it’s only in Montreal that you can get beat up for wearing a beard. I love Montreal. I hate the speculators who are tearing down my favourite streets and erecting those prisons built in the habit of boredom and gold.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

While he prefers swimming in the Aegean, Leonard Cohen admits a fondness for camping in Northern Quebec. He is currently engaged in writing a novel.

Photo: Leonard Cohen’s Local Shop On Hydra

“The sky demands all manner of stories, entertainments, embroideries, just as it does of its stars and constellations. The sky… wants the whole man lost in his story, abandoned in the mechanics of action, touching his fellows, leaving them, hunting the steps, dancing the old circles.” Leonard Cohen – Hydra

From “Here Was The Harbour” by Leonard Cohen, published in Parasites of Heaven (1966). The complete final verse of this prose poem follows:

Give what you want to the gulls, the sky is not satisfied with the smudges of your character. It demands stories; of men the sky demands all manner of stories, entertainments, embroideries, just as it does of its stars and constellations. The sky does not care for this trait or that affliction, it wants the whole man lost in his story, abandoned in the mechanics of action, touching his fellows, leaving them, hunting the steps, dancing the old circles. The sky wants diagrams of our lives, it stores them like little curious wrist-watches, they are our wedding gifts.

Hydra photos by Lennard Torbijn

Leonard Cohen Fans – Register Now: Rendezvous With Hydra 2019

Registration has opened for the next Leonard Cohen Hydra meetup, which will take place Friday June 7 to Sunday June 9, 2019. As the official announcement at LeonardCohenFiles puts it,

This unofficial gathering is for people who want to spend some time together on the beautiful island. We will suggest good restaurants for dinners, we enjoy some Mythoses at the Roloi Bar in the harbour, maybe do some walks in the Hydra city and up to the hills — it will be more like a holiday!

Everyone I’ve known who has attended one of these biennial Hydra meetups has spoken of being overwhelmed by the island, the Leonard Cohen connections, and the fellowship.

Information about the trip and registration is available at Rendezvous With Hydra.

“We smoke the occasional common cigarette into which we have introduced a few crumbs of hashish. We cannot rely on this crude device to secure us the visions and insights we hunger for, but it has its use as an agent of relaxation and receptivity.” Leonard Cohen – Hydra, 1965

A passage from an unpublished essay of 1965 clarifies the nature of drug use on the island [Hydra]. Cohen writes:

In this part of the planet men have smoked and cooked hashish for many centuries, and as countless American and European homosexuals can testify, without sacrificing any of the vigourous qualities we would associate with a people so crucial to history, a continuous seminal history including not only the classical and Byzantine periods, but also, and perhaps most important, our own time. We who are here today believe that these lands of the Eastern Mediterranean are still the glistening alembic in which the happiest and purest synthesis of the West and Orient must occur. Islanders brew a tea from the wild narcotic poppies which is served to restless children and rebellious mules….

We smoke the occasional common cigarette into which we have introduced a few crumbs of hashish. We cannot rely on this crude device to secure us the visions and insights we hunger for, but it has its use as an agent of relaxation and receptivity. On the recreational side I might say that erotic and musical experience is enhanced under its influence. My wife would not listen to Bach without it, nor I to the cicadas at sundown. … The lyrics of many bazouki tunes celebrate the aromatic generosity of the leaf as it turns to ash.

From Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira Nadel

“Thank god for hashish, cognac, and neurotic women who pay their debts with flesh.” Leonard Cohen, Writing To Jack McClelland (1961)

“Thank god for hashish, cognac, and neurotic women who pay their debts with flesh,” he [Leonard Cohen] wrote McClelland, adding that the products of the island [Hydra] are “sponges, movies, nervous breakdowns, and divorces.” He wrote Layton that he had seen corpses in the sea and witnessed “assassins’ drugs.” Layton was uncharacteristically indifferent: “I gather the Greek wines are too strong for him,” he commented to a friend. Meanwhile, Cohen was still seeking extra funds, this time from an advance on royalties of The Spice-Box of Earth, encouraging McClelland to “dig deep to keep Cohen out of the Clothing Business.”

From Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira Nadel