Half the Perfect World

Anjani Plays “Half the Perfect World”

On September 27, 1960, six days after his twenty-sixth birthday, Leonard Cohen bought a house on the Greek island of Hydra located in the Aegean Sea. He paid $1,500 for the house, using a bequest from his recently deceased grandmother. This was a “big deal” in the words of one of his friends, a commitment to a place and world that was mysterious and unusual. Buying the house was a complicated act, needing the assistance of his friend Demetri Gassoumis as translator, adviser and witness to the deed.

Cohen’s Hydra Home

Cohen later said that it was the smartest decision he ever made. The three-story, ancient whitewashed building, with its five rooms on several levels, was run down and had no electricity, plumbing or running water. Yet it was a private space where he could work, either on the large tiled terrace or in his music room on the third floor.

He described his home to his mother, “It has a huge terrace with a view of dramatic mountain and shining white houses. The rooms are large and cool with deep windows set in thick walls. I suppose it’s about 200 years old and many generations of sea-.men must have lived here. I will do a little work on it every year and in a few years it will be a mansion … I live on a hill and life has been going on here exactly the same for hundreds of years. All through the day you hear the calls of the street vendors and they are really rather musical … I get up around 7 generally and work till about noon. Early morning is coolest and therefore best, but I love the heat anyhow, especially when the Aegean Sea is 10 minutes from my door.”

Leonard Cohen in the Hydra Harbor

He knew he had been accepted by the community when he began receiving regular visits from the garbage man and his donkey. Here Leonard discovered the Greek way of life – its alternating rhythms of work and leisure, both on the seasonal and daily basis, which are so conductive to creative thought and achievement. Here he was able to stand back from the onrush of western man and ask himself the real questions of life and meaning, get his young life, full and successful as it had been, into perspective. Here he began to crystallize the wisdom of some of his best poetry, writing and songs, (or it was here that he was reborn, where he truly began to find himself, where not least, the music of Greece entered his soul, evoking earlier memories and melodies, combining with them to suggest a new style, a new.

Cohen was part of a group of young, idealistic group of young writers and artists who went to live in the town of Hydra on the Greek island of Hydra. A book titled Half the Perfect World has been written about the time that Cohen spent on Hydra where he really developed as a musician, poet and philosopher. Half the Perfect World tells the story of the post-war international artist community that formed on the Greek island of Hydra. Most famously, it included renowned singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and his partner Marianne Ihlen, as well as many other artists and writers including the Australian literary couple, Charmian Clift and George Johnston, who fostered this fabled colony.

* * *

And, it was these memories of Hydra that Cohen and his friend Anjani Thomas wrote one of the most gorgeous songs in the entire Cohen collection of songs: “Half the Perfect World.” Told from the first person perspective of a woman lover of Cohen at this time. (Yet note, in the version of the song played by Anjani above, it is told from a male perspective as if Cohen is relating the story). Most likely, it puts the words of Cohen’s lover at the time – Marrianne Ihlen – into words. It’s a song about a special place and time in Leonard Cohen’s life.

A time of idealism and love and hope. Not perfect, but half perfect. Perhaps like that place many of us have been to. For a brief moment.

Half the Perfect World
(Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas)

Every night he’d come to me
I’d cook for him, I’d pour his tea
I was in my thirties then
Had made some money
Lived with men

We’d lay us down to give and get
Beneath the white mosquito net
And since no counting had begun
We lived a thousand years in one

The candles burned
The moon went down
The polished hill
The milky town
Transparent, weightless, luminous
Uncovering the two of us
On that fundamental ground
Where love’s unwilled, unleashed, unbound
And half the perfect world is found

The candles burned
The moon went down
The polished hill
The milky town
Transparent, weightless, luminous
Uncovering the two of us
On that fundamental ground
Where love’s unwilled, unleashed, unbound
And half the perfect world is found

_____________________

Much of the above taken from the Leonard Cohen files.

Visit the official Leonard Cohen site.

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