Andrew Darbyshire, Australia

Hydra - A Mediterranean Magnet (April 2002)

I suppose I was a boy of only 5 years when I had my first experience of the Mediterranean (cruising through it, bound for Australia on a P&O ocean liner) – and my lasting memory of it is one of a sunny, exotic, exciting and enticing place. Now, many years later, I feel the pull of the Mediterranean, not as a child, but an adult who has experienced a lot of life and been metaphorically ‘at sea’ in many respects. For me, Leonard Cohen captures, in all his creative expression, the many nuances of that feeling of ‘being at sea’ whilst negotiating the amazing experience of human existence – the vast ocean of life. Because this is reflected brilliantly in his statuesque work, particularly his song writing and music, he strikes a chord in many a sensitive and attuned heart. It’s not surprising then that Leonard Cohen has a following of devoted fans, who (thankfully) around the world are more than just a mere handful.

Before the phenomenon of Internet sites, such as The Leonard Cohen Files, many of us Cohen fans would have been quite unaware of each other’s existence. So Jarkko’s site (and similar ones) has been like an oasis for many of us who previously, in isolation, would have felt like we were from another planet (being so absorbed by one creative genius, whose style many have scorned). In some way, emotionally, it’s been like a wonderful homecoming to discover that there are so many like-minded fans that know the true value of this supreme artist; these people becoming like brothers and sisters in a close knit family of Cohen devotees. However, the cyber world also has its limitations and so face to face communication, people together sharing, most would agree is the pinnacle experience– and that’s’ where, of course, Hydra comes sharply into focus!

As undoubtedly Montreal was, Hydra will also be a ‘mountain-top experience’ for Cohen aficionados many which have only communicated with each other via the Internet. Not only will it allow for that wonderful tangible ‘fellowship’ between those in the same physical space on a shared spiritual wavelength, but also it will undoubtedly be a superb travel and cultural experience (which will enable us in some small way to connect with Leonard’s own experience those decades ago). So, the pull of that Mediterranean magnet is therefore stronger than ever for me, as I look forward to the Hydra 2002 Experience!

Hydra - The Magnet Appraised (July 2002)

It was with a sense of contained excitement and relief that I left Piraeus on the Flying Dolphin on the Wednesday prior to the big event - there were a few of us Cohenistas on board and we were all being inexorably drawn by the magnet of the LC Experience on Hydra. This initial feeling was transformed into exhilaration when I first glimpsed Hydra and then watched it slowly usurp my forward view. My reaction upon disembarking and quickly surveying the scene was that this was a truly delightful looking little harbour town and one that more than matched my earlier phantasies of what it might be like.

The Argo Hotel had a simple but captivating charm and the family members who run it were very warm, welcoming and relaxed. Even with my large heavy suitcase, my little room drew me ever upwards (via the spiral staircase) until it had me in its clutches and I was its captive for 6 days. The shuttered window, with the honeyed sunlight coming through, framed an interesting steeply terraced rock garden – the Mediterranean magnet was drawing me deeper into its psyche.

Beyond my delightful room there was much visual allure. Above it, were the mansions of the bygone wealthy Hydriotes and the blue sky. Below there was the quaint little harbour town with its magical delights: multifarious seacraft bobbing peacefully; sprawling and spectacularly located cafes; tantalising tavernas; a labyrinth of ancient stone streets, passageways and stairways; noble old buildings and houses; welcoming shops; dutifully docile donkeys and the all-encompassing rocky, barren and hilly terrain - all drawing me into the bewitching world that Hydriotes are proud to call home.

The lifestyle, seen through visitor’s eyes, was undoubtedly seductive: the mouth-watering comestibles; the beguiling drinks; the attentive friendly waiters; the balmy evenings; the beautifully noisy and unhurried nights; the slow late morning starts; the sensuous and inviting Mediterranean sea; the intriguing surprise-filled walks; the at times bustling, but still fairly relaxed, commercial life; and the old men (with their worry beads) wiling away the time – nattering, drinking Greek coffee, playing backgammon. I’m sure there are other aspects that have escaped me, but these enchanting and appealing elements of the perceived lifestyle are still clear in my mind!

The main reason for being on Hydra was, of course, “The Leonard Cohen Experience” and right from the buzz of registration, it was this event which captivated me in an unparalleled fashion. After the wonderful first evening official opening (and warm welcome by the Mayor), which left me inwardly glowing, it was the nightly parade of fascinating and professional performers, followed by the delightful, surprising and amusing “open mic” performers. Adding to these were the engrossing and enlightening video sessions (where Leonard’s visage was as a friend in our midst), the trading market, and the “pilgrimage” walk to Leonard’s house – so how could one’s “Cohen appetite” be anything but replete! To round the social and tourist program out, there were the boat trips and barbecues, as well as the monastery walks (for those who could endure them).

Undoubtedly the glue that held this magnificent program together was the enthusiastic, congenial and convivial Cohen aficionados from all around the globe, including that wonderful group of friends who organised the program and executed it with grace and humility! It was enthralling to meet such kindred spirits and enjoy fabulous taverna meals, cordial conversations and light-hearted moments together. It is also reassuring to know that there are experiences like this that do break down the barriers between us as relative strangers and people from somewhat different lands/cultures. This was exemplified by the late night harbour-side drinking, yarning, laughing and singing sessions! It was also greatly enhanced by the presence and participation of the delightful Lorca Cohen in at least one of these gatherings (along with her musically talented friend, Martha Wainwright). There is no question in my mind that it was these human aspects of the event that were not only in anticipation, but also in actuality, the ones that had the most emotional influence on me –the new friendships will be genuinely treasured! Nonetheless, this does not diminish the aesthetic, cultural, and hedonistic pull of Hydra for me! So the Hydra magnet has done its thing and I have no doubt that it will always have this powerful attraction, whether there is another Cohen event there or not.. I’m just so privileged to have experienced the two phenomena together – what an irresistible Mediterranean magnet!

Photos © 2002 Jarkko Arjatsalo (1) and Kim Solez (2)