I’m in Athens visiting friends when I learn that legendary Canadian poet and singer–songwriter Leonard Cohen once lived in Greece. As a fan, I decide I have to see exactly where for myself. Because the ferry schedule is literally Greek to me, I end up on a commercial cruise whose first stop is Hydra, the small island Cohen called home from 1960 to 1967, 60 kilometres south of Athens.
For Cohen, Hydra was a pre–fame incubator: a place where he could write poetry, spend time with his girlfriend and muse Marianne Ihlen and play his music live for the first time at kafenion O Katsikas (now called Roloi Café). Although locals say tourism has changed the island’s spirit, an intimate vibe remains even as the population has grown to 2,500.
The cruise itinerary only allows for a 90–minute visit, so the moment the boat docks, the clock starts counting down on my pilgrimage. I bolt to look for the house Cohen purchased with funds left to him by his grandmother, a quest that takes me up dusty staircases and between rows of orange–roofed homes, weaving through the island’s legions of cats, sweat dripping down my back from the summer sun. Since most streets on Hydra aren’t named, I am guided by a few vague hints pulled from the Internet, including: “Locate the Four Corners grocery shop up on the hills. Turn right at the shop. Cohen’s home has an elaborate door knocker in the shape of a hand.”