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A passage from an unpublished essay of 1965 clarifies the nature of drug use on the island.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