Hydra Celebrates Leonard Cohen June 2015
Photos of the Forum meet-up on hydra June 2015
Hydra – Henry Miller wrote of this Greek island, “This rock is a living rock, a divine wave of energy suspended in time and space, creating a pause of long or short duration in the endless melody. Hydra was entered as a pause in the musical score of creation by an expert calligrapher.”
Lying 15 minutes from the mainland, after about three hours drive from Athens, or alternatively, a two hour boat trip from the port of Piraeus, (Athens), within seconds of landing, one immediately understands why so many artists, writers, poets and musicians have fallen under her spell.
For Australians, George Johnston, Charmain Clift, Brett Whiteley and most recently, Tim Winton – he wrote the first transcript of The Ryders there – are perhaps the most well-known Hydra lovers. Indeed it was Johnston and Clift who first offered the young Leonard Cohen a bed and wine, before he bought his Hydra home.
For Greek people, the island played a vital role in the War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire and is the birthplace of five Greek Prime Ministers and the first President of the Hellenic Republic. These days, it is also quite deservedly, one of the most popular Mediterranean destinations for luxury yachts and motorboats. A beguiling mix of the old and 21st century cosmopolitan, apart from a couple of essential service garbage and fire trucks, the island is motor vehicle free – you either walk, hire a donkey, or if you want to range further out to swimming beaches, hire one of the numerous water taxis – just 3 euro per person.
The island doesn’t really come alive until the later afternoon, (although the hard working local people might have some argument with that statement!), but then the countless bars and restaurants spring into life and continue serving drinks and food well past 5.00am. Even the shops are often open till almost midnight.
For anyone seeking respite from the burden of everyday working life in our increasingly hectic world, this clean, safe haven is truly as close to paradise as anyone could wish. Yes, if you really want, free wifi is everywhere, but why would you, other than to post a cheesy FB photo?
Some time ago, the municipality of Hydra, led by the debonair and affable Mayor, Dr. George Koukoudakis, decided it was time to honour the legacy of foreign artists who’ve found inspiration on Hydra with an annual event, featuring a different writer or artist each year. They chose to start with Leonard Cohen, arguably the most famous of the Hydra-based artists. Although he no longer lives there, the Montreal born, LA based singer / songwriter still maintains his Hydra residence, these days, used by his daughter Lorca and son Adam, who regularly return to the island paradise where they spent their childhood years. The island has also become a kind of mecca for Leonard Cohen fans, which segues into the author’s involvement with Hydra’s Leonard Cohen salute.
Some twenty years ago, Finnish guy Jarkko Arjatsolo and his wife Eija started what would become the definitive website on Leonard Cohen – The Leonard Cohen Forum. The site gained such respect and such a following, that Cohen himself began contributing lines, drawings, thoughts he was working on. For example, much of the material from Cohen’s ‘BOOK OF LONGING first saw the light of day on the site, although as it slowly became clear the book would be published, copyright became the unintended elephant in the room and the material was taken down.
With Cohen’s well documented, albeit financially forced decision to resume touring back in 2008, the website grew dramatically. By then ‘Forum meet-ups’ had been happening on Hydra for about six years, these days, the Forum meets in Hydra every second year and somewhere else in the world every other year – next year is Amsterdam (early August for those who may be interested). Jarkko was contacted by the Mayor (Dr George Koukoudakis) and the man in charge of organising the event, council member Mr Panagiotis Rappas to see whether Forum members would like to contribute to the celebrations in some way. The suggestion being that some might like to perform Leonard Cohen songs and in an inspired left of field choice, the Hydra municipality decided they would also like people to read samples of Leonard Cohen poetry in the native tongue of the their mother country. Forum members were overjoyed and Jarkko was overwhelmed with offers to perform.
The Hydra Leonard Cohen tribute event, which was free to the public, was set down for the evening of Saturday the 13th June 2015 and in concert with the authorities on Hydra, Jarkko began organising a series of events for Forum members around that weekend. He was expecting around 100 people, however to his delight, unofficially, almost 300 Leonard Cohen Forum members attended over the course of the weekend.
Whilst this article is about the tribute night, it must be mentioned that Jarkko and Eija arranged for Forum members to tour the mainland, visiting several ancient ruins on the Friday, the obligatory pilgrimage walk to Cohen’s house on the Saturday and a private outdoor cinema showing of a very special Cohen concert at Ghent, courtesy of Mr. Lakis Christides, Chairman of the Hydra Cinema Club, who also acted as tour guide on the Friday.
The stage was set on the marina outside the Hydra Museum, alongside the ferry landing, indeed the event couldn’t start until the last ferry had left for Athens around 9.30pm. Matina Douskou and Corinna Seeds shared MC duties, with Matina also reading poetry written by Cohen. Matina’s dad is the owner of Cohen’s favourite haunt of old, Douskou’s Taverna. The Canadian Ambassador to Greece, Robert Peck, as the guest of honour, was welcomed by the Mayor of Hydra, then he accepted honorary Greek Citizenship for and on behalf of Leonard Cohen, after which, he recited Cohen’s tribute to past days on Hydra, ‘DAYS OF KINDNESS.’
A superb band with Angeliki Bazigou on vocals, Angelos Tsourelis on piano, Kostas Kritsis on violin and Perikilis Tpivolis on double bass provided the professional entertainment for the night, alternating with screened excerpts from Cohen documentaries and performances from Forum members,some of whom are professional performers in their own right. About an hour into the event, a 50 metre private motor yacht slipped quietly into the ferry mooring beside the stage, a fitting reminder of the island’s role as a playground for billionaires, artists, fishermen and tourists. The evening finished around 12.15am with an ethereal dance to Cohen music by very talented young Hydra dancers. Finally the Mayor called Jarkko Arjatsolo on stage to thank him and forum members for their participation and interest in Hydra. From there, Forum members walked the few metres around to the Cohenites Bar (they could make it that far!) the Roloi Hotel – from memory … hmm! … my wife Ann and I left around 4.30am!
Leonard Cohen Forum participants included:
· Joe Way, with a speech about the Forum and Jarkko’s contributions.
· Lynette van Duyn, reading “BIRD ON THE WIRE” in Afrikaan – “DUIF OP ‘N DRAAD.
· Henning Franz, guitar and vocals, performing “THE PARTISAN”
· Claudia Rucker, banjo, keyboards and vocals, performing “YOU GOT ME SINGING”
· Lydia Mentink and Lennard Torbijn and guitars and vocals, performing “WHO BY FIRE”
· Greg Ross, reading “YOU ARE RIGHT SAHARA” in Maori – “HE TIKA KOE SAHARA”
· Hadassah Heilig, reading “HALLELUJAH” in Hebrew – “HALLELUJAH”
· Beatris Salles, reading “DUSKOS’S TAVERNA in Catalan – “DUSKOS’S TAVERNA”
· Deborah Jeanne, guitar and vocals, performing “SUZANNE”
· Sue Merlyn Farebrother, guitar and vocals, performing “STRANGER SONG”
· Alan Jones and Claudia Rucker, guitar and vocals, performing “DANCE ME TO THE END OF LOVE.”
· Matheus Costa, reading “AS THE MIST LEAVES NO SCAR” in Brazilian Portuguese
It was a magical evening. One wonders whether Leonard Cohen could ever have imagined that one day his music and poetry would ring out across the bay at Hydra, as people from all over the world gathered together with the citizens of Hydra, to honour his music and lyrics.
There appeared to be two professional TV crews covering the event, however at this stage, several clips of performances on the night, obviously shot on mobile phones have appeared on YouTube and I’ve listed the links below, as more appear, I’ll add them. Special thanks to Forum member Roman Gavrilin, who is responsible for most of the clips.
And finally, for those who may have wondered why I chose to read in Maori; whilst I live in Australia, I am a Kiwi by birth and although I’m not Maori, the Maori language is in many ways well suited to Cohen’s lyrics – both are allegorical, mystical and heavy with layers of meaning, rather than base facts, or individual words. I grew up in quiet awe of Maori oratory skills and this was my small tribute to Cohen and the Maori people, I ask forgiveness for any mistakes I may have made in pronunciation.
The evening was made for me, when just after the event closed, the impossible happened; a lady came up to me, saying how much she’d loved hearing Cohen’s poem read in Maori – she’s a New Zealander who speaks Maori, loves Cohen and lives in Hydra! Then the next morning, an Irish lady came up to me on the street and said, “Kia Ora and thank you for last night.” She went on to say, “I’m Irish, but I have three Maori sons and I’ve rung them to tell them what happened last night, thank you.” It is a small world!
Heartfelt thanks to the Municipality of Hydra and Jarkko Arjatsolo for organising such a splendid evening on Hydra, truly the enchanted isle of our world.
Canadian Ambassador to Greece, Robert Peck, recites DAYS OF KINDNESS
Lynette van Duyn & Matina Douskou read Leonard Cohen poems (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Lydia Mentink & Lennard Torbijn – Who by Fire (soundcheck, Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Angeliki Bazigou – Bird on the Wire (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Joe Way – Speech (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Henning Franz – The Partisan (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
YOU ARE RIGHT SAHARA a poem by Leonard Cohen read in Maori by Greg Ross (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Hadassah Heilig – Hallelujah – in Hebrew (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Claudia Rucker – You Got Me Singing (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Angeliki Bazigou – Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Alan Jones & Claudia Rucker – Dance Me to the End of Love (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Deborah Jeanne Weitzman – Suzanne (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
Matheus Pereira Costa – As the Mist Leaves No Scar (Hydra, Greece, June 13, 2015)
The Mayor of Hydra George Koukoudakis thanks Mr. Jarkko Arjatsalo (June 13, 2015)