Photo of Hydra, Greece, by Pat Butler
She was Norwegian, like Leonard's love Marianne.
Curious to check out our hotel’s terrace, I climbed up the white concrete stairs to the second level. We’d just checked into Hotel Sidra, in Hydra, Greece for three nights and I was familiarizing myself with its features. The island has very few residents, no cars or motorcycles so only donkeys provide transport, and is a magnet for tourists seeking calm and beauty.
The rectangular terrace provided seating for about 20 guests, attractively placed in groups. At the western end a large beige umbrella shaded a couple of chairs beside a hot pink bougainvillea that spilled over the wall. The eastern end was completely covered by a metal frame, supporting a thick profusion of white bougainvillea blossoms (shown above). Stems of white flowers provided natural shade, beckoning to me as I stood in the hot sun.
Two Other Guests
Then I realized that one shaded chair and table were occupied by an older man facing in my direction. He was bare-chested, wearing shorts, and reading a book. Right behind him a woman faced his back, at a separate table, both having sought cool shade. She called out hello as I decided where to sit with my book, and I waved, then chose a chair under the umbrella. Having heard her speak to the man in an indecipherable language, I figured they were companions.
After the three of us had read in silence for about 15 minutes, she stood up and approached. Speaking accented English, she initiated the typical ‘Where are you from?’ conversation that tourists launch when seeking a new acquaintance or variation from their current solitude.
“Canada. And where are you from?” I responded.
“I’m from Norway. We come here every year.” Her dyed-red hair was short and curly, and her pale blue eyes twinkled, reminding me of Scandinavians I’ve met. She was fit and energetic, and probably in her 70s.
She went on to explain that she comes to Hydra regularly because she’s such a Leonard Cohen fan.
“Yes, every day that we are here I buy fresh flowers and place them on the front door of his house. My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I feel the need to honour that wonderful man.”
We chatted about how much I enjoyed Bergen, Norway last summer and I shared a couple of
anecdotes about Canadian-born Leonard, mentioning that I’ve read I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen.
“Oh, I’ve read that. I’ve read everything written about him.” Hmmm…she certainly is an obsessive fan, I thought.
We discussed the location of Leonard’s house on Hydra that he bought in 1960, which we’d not yet
visited. She described the tough climb required to reach the house way up a long hill.
The topic switched to our current trip, and the need to change our itinerary when I contracted COVID in Delphi. “Having had six vaccinations, I think my case was milder than it would have been otherwise,” I commented.
She said, “Oh, I don’t believe in vaccinations. Haven’t had any and I haven’t gotten the virus. I don’t believe in any religion, I just worship Mother Earth and stay perfectly healthy. I meditate and love all natural things. And Leonard Cohen.” She went on and on.
A Different Take on Vaccination
As we parted I was amazed at how adamantly she disdained vaccination. Then I remembered George,
the Greek chauffeur who’d driven us from Delphi to Nafplio the previous week. (Having been dismissed from the bus tour we had to find alternative transportation.)
In his mid-thirties, mask-wearing George had related his experience with the coronavirus.
“When the pandemic first hit, I didn’t think it was particularly serious. When vaccinations became available, I refused to get one. Our government tried to bribe people to get the shot by paying them 50 euro and I didn’t trust its motive.
“Then I contracted COVID and was terribly sick for two straight months. I lost about 25 kilograms of
weight. As you use pounds, I lost a pound a day! I was too weak to get out of bed, and nearly died. As soon as I recovered and could be vaccinated, I got the shot. Since then, I’ve had COVID twice, but
both cases were mild and manageable.”
Thinking of my quirky Norwegian acquaintance, I’m reminded that it takes all types to make a world. While working as a training consultant, I became expert at “reading” new people. Picking up on a potential client’s preferences and needs was essential to my success.
Having been retired for 17 years, most of the people with whom I now interact socially have similar values to mine. How boring, even monotonous! Rarely conversing with idiosyncratic types, I found meeting this red-haired stranger with fixed philosophies most entertaining. No point in sharing George’s COVID story or saying anything confrontational.
When we eventually visited Leonard’s house (now owned by his son Adam) we saw the remnants of her fresh flower tribute lying on the doorstep. I’m happy to know how they got there.