Elaine Bermitz reviews Tamar Hodes’ The Water and The Wine, an account of a childhood living among musician and poet Leonard Cohen’s creative friends on the Greek island of Hydra.
Within the pages of The Water and the Wine, Tamar Hodes writes about her childhood experience on the island of Hydra, from an adult’s point of view. Now an Israeli author, she first moved to the island with her parents and older brother at the age of three, settling among a group of creative people until the family left the island several years later.
Her father was a writer and her mother, an artist. They joined an artists’ colony on the tiny Greek island, whose members included songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, with whom her father made acquaintance, so much so that when the family left the island, Cohen gave him the journal he kept of his time on the island and his relationship with Marianne Ihlen, to whom he dedicated many songs.
“I contemplated writing a book for many years about my time on the island and the people we knew there. But it wasn’t until my father gave me the journal before he died and Marianne and Leonard died within four months of each other in 2016 that I really began to think about writing anything,” explained Tamar.
The resulting book is a mixture of fact and imagination. A fictionalised version of Tamar’s family feature and the natural details of the island are taken from Cohen’s own descriptions. The cafes, the shop and houses are all real, but the conversations, events and dalliances are clearly imagined.
Many other lives, including Tamar’s, were shaped by the island’s beauty and remoteness. The islanders cleaned and cooked for their charges, looked after their children and mended their houses. There was no form of transport except for the donkeys who were looked after by the islanders and the food and wine was fresh, simple and plentiful.
An idyllic place then, yes, but also a place where it was impossible to escape one’s own failings. As Australian writer Charmian Clift, who also lived among the colony once wrote: “On an island, eventually, you are bound to find yourself.” So, the drinkers drank more, arguments and attractions between people – married or not – came to prominence, and communality meant a form of childlike interdependence, which would not have lasted in everyday society.
For the unwitting children who absorbed it all, their parent’s inability to take responsibility for their own lives left them with no example to live by. The Water and The Wine is worth reading particularly if you are a fan of Leonard Cohen. It’s also worth reading as a depiction of an experiment in escapism, which, in many cases, did not lead to anything creative or successful for the adults.