Before Mykonos, before Santorini, there was Hydra (ΥΔΡΑ). I’d heard talk that Hydra was swanky. A guidebook referred to it as the catwalk queen of the Saronic Gulf, and that alone was enough to keep me away for all these years. Then I heard about other things — like a thriving summer arts community and Leonard Cohen — and that was enough to bring me to port. Hydra called, I answered.
In 1960, singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, and let’s face it — genius — Leonard Cohen purchased a three story house on Hydra for $1500. Even in 1960 dollars, that was a bargain. Cohen’s choice of island wasn’t random, he’d heard from friends that there was a flourishing group of expat writers and artists on the island. Painters, poets, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones soon followed. Cohen stayed for a while then left. Leonard Cohen was, after all, the man who famously called success obscene.
I added Ydra to my itinerary after reading a New York Times article that referred to it as the last stop on the art circuit, a sort of summertime Art Basel. I went there hoping to combine two great loves: Greece and art. It’s difficult to articulate art’s influence and importance in my life, other than to say that it brings beauty and meaning to my world.
What I found on Hydra was completely unexpected — a humble and hardworking island of great natural beauty, without a catwalk in sight. The entire island has been declared a national treasure by the Greek government and the Council of Europe. The island guidebook refers to Hydra as cosmopolitan, but the roosters and donkeys tell a different story. It’s the story I prefer.
I was just as surprised by what I didn’t find on the island: art. In fact, Hydra seemed to have much less art than many other islands in Greece. The Deste Foundation Art Center, cited in the New York Times article, was completely shuttered while I was there.
Is there a misinformation campaign going on, or is Hydra simply incorruptible? If Hydra were less beautiful, perhaps the question would be worth pondering.
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