Andrew McGeever, UK

Hydra, Leonard, and Me.

As a child, I was fascinated by ancient Greece: words like "Sparta", "Hercules" and "Agamemnon" were leitmotifs for epic struggles to be enacted on top of my bed: pillows became mountain passes, blankets battlefields. "Sword and Sandal" matinees at the local picture house fuelled my imagination.

I studied Latin, not Greek, at high-school, though Latin became the window through which the ancient world was revealed: the Mediterannean a core of culture, history and myths. I devoured Homer's "Illiad" and "Odyssey", but two enormous, life-enhancing events coincided when I turned 15: my introduction to the poetry of Leonard Cohen ("The Spice-Box of Earth") and watching the magnificent performance of Anthony Quinn in "Zorba The Greek".

Quinn struck me as an older, heavier, big brother version of Leonard. Mikis Theodorakis's music score underpinned my desire to visit Greece. Between '67 and '74, this was impossible: a military coup had ushered in a fascist dictatorship. Theodorakis was imprisoned, while other artists sought refuge abroad. Costa-Garvas's film "Z" hit me right between my undergraduate eyes.

Democracy restored, I made my first of many trips to Greece in the mid 70's. Piraeus to Hydra was a short hop: I recall a noticeboard in the harbour, announcing in Greek, the names of several boats.Underneath, in perfect English, lay a message "the above boats go somewhere every day". That was Hydra: cheap retsina, ouzo, and even cheaper cigarettes. Men danced alone to bouzouki music (I was advised not to join in......"it's his soul, not yours"). Strong coffee, washed down with water, and a burning sun drew me back again. Leonard's "Selected Poems 1956-1968" still smells of stale sun oil, and the cigarette burn on the front cover wasn't my fault. I blame it on her. Out of this, and more, grew "Mythologies and Oranges":

Mythologies and Oranges

For Leonard Cohen

My mother once told me I looked like you:
that handsome, half-wolf, half-lamb profile,
angled for intellect with carnal intent.

I counted the steps it took to climb
from the harbour to your whitewashed house
on Hydra. Hashish and retsina danced
as cigarette smoke-stanzas curled above
your battered typewriter: my ground, quicksand
against the pull of your poetry.

You became my cantor-conjurer,
spinning conundrums through my parenting years;
the centrifuge that drew me to the Jew
who harped beyond the strictures of belief.

Your ageless voice, like my mother's script
on your first album sleeve, remains;
"submit to tea and oranges,
beware the harbour of mythologies".

Andrew McGeever, 2000.

* * *