McGregor ‘Weekend with Leonard Cohen’ a tremendous tribute of song, food, and poem!


I have returned from a special weekend in McGregor. A ‘Weekend with Leonard Cohen’ was exactly that, filled with four documentaries of his concert tours, and two live concerts, held at Wahnfried, and a magnificent lunch at Tebaldi’s restaurant at the spiritual retreat Temenos. The weekend Festival was well attended.

I have special memories of listening to LM Radio in the Sixties on Sunday evenings, whilst doing my homework for the week ahead. There was always one or more melancholy Cohen songs on the hit parade, balancing the upbeat songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, and many others. Cohen moved us with the poignant poetry in his music. 

Whilst every element of the ‘Weekend with Leonard Cohen’ was superb, and well-planned, the highlight for me was the lunch on Saturday, held at Tebaldi’s restaurant at Temenos. I was a last-minute booker, having postponed a Silent Retreat due to illness on Wednesday, which enabled me to attend the ‘Weekend with Leonard Cohen’. Whilst getting into the movies and shows became possible at such short notice, I was told that the lunch was sold out. I asked permission to sit in on the reading of Leonard Cohen’s poetry, and to photograph the lunch items. Tebaldi’s and the Leonard Cohen tribute organizers had themed the lunch around Cohen’s favorite foods, and had created a three course lunch menu.  McGregor local David Magner read the poems, told Cohen’s life story, and played Cohen’s music while the 43 guests were eating. All guests had pre-paid their attendance, and had pre-ordered the three courses from choices offered. Wines had been donated by McGregor Wines. 

I sat at one end of the Tebaldi’s dining room, ready with my phone to photograph the dishes, when Temenos GM Graham Goble spotted an empty seat at the table booked by Penny Keet for herself and her family. Penny was extremely gracious in welcoming me to her family table, and in not accepting payment for my meal, as she had pre-paid for the cancelled person already. I had the good fortune to have won a Leonard Cohen CD at the movie lucky draw before the lunch, so could offer that to Penny as a small token of my appreciation, which she accepted gladly, being the Leonard Cohen fan of the family. 

The menu described the event as ‘celebrating Leonard Cohen’s Jewish roots and his Buddhist leanings‘.  As starters our choices were twofold, paired with McGregor Chenin Blanc:

#.  Yoych mit Lockshen, traditional chicken soup with dumplings made from matzo meal. 

#.  ‘Take your pulse’ red lentil Dahl. This was served with homemade ciabatta. 

For the main course three options were offered, all served with a choice of McGregor Colombard or Cape Merlot:

#   Kind David’s Gefillte Fish, made with herring, and served with horseradish and Kitke bread. 

#   ‘Dance me to the end of love‘ was a Vegetarian Bliss, being baked Aubergine filled with feta, bulgar wheat, and cashew nuts. It was topped with a tomato pistachio sauce, and was served with a small side salad.

#   Ironically grilled pork ribs with homemade barbecue sauce and chips was a special favorite, not being kosher at all!  This favorite dish was served at Cohen’s favorite Deli in Montreal. 

Two desserts were offered, paired with McGregor White Muscadel:

#   Homemade Halva ice cream

#   A ‘serene ending’ of chocolate pumpkin cake. 

David Magner (left) shared an overview of Cohen’s life, which we also heard from singer/poet/playwright/writer Roger Lucey, who performed on Friday evening, and from poet/singer/church minister Koos
van der Merwe (right) on Saturday evening. Van der Merwe has been translating Cohen’s songs into Afrikaans since 2012, and was granted the rights to do so by Cohen. The four documentaries also provided biographical information.

Cohen was born in Quebec in 1934, to Orthodox Jewish parents. He had an older sister. He lost his father at the age of nine. He learnt to play the guitar as a teenager, and started writing poems. He moved to London, writing sad poems in the grey, rainy, and cold city.  He moved to Hydra in Greece, in search of the sun. Here he met Norwegian Marianne, with a ‘cute tongue of gold’. He and Marianne were together for eight years. He wrote one of his best known hits ‘So long Marianne’ about her. When they drifted apart, he moved to New York in 1967. In this city he became a rockstar, and a cult hero, with many covering his iconic songs. ‘Bird on a Wire’,  ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, and ‘Chelsea Hotel’ were written in the Big Apple, the latter Hotel being his home whilst living in the city. I have no recollection of that song. At this time he had a relationship with singer Janis Joplin. He had a partner named Suzanne Elrod, the mother of his son and daughter, but his song ‘Suzanne’ was written about the wife of his friend, possibly the most loved of all his songs. The rights to this song were stolen from him:

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then he gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind
And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him, and you want to travel blind
And you think you maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with her mind
Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river
She’s wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they wil lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind’

‘Gypsy Wife’, ‘I’m your Man’, and ‘Hallelujah’ come from this era too. ‘Hallelujah’ took five years to write. Cohen was called many things, including ‘Troubadour of Sadness‘.  His first love was poetry and English literature. He was named as the best young Poet in English Canada. He published two novels and two poetry books, selling very few copies initially. Once he became famous as a musician, he sold hundreds and thousands of copies. He said he understood poet Yeats, but not Shakespeare. One of Cohen’s best known lines  is: ‘there is a crack in everything – that is how the light gets in’! He also wrote: ‘My body has become a Museum‘. He said that poets should only be called that at the end of their lives: ‘then let the verdict be‘. I loved the lines ‘My pen keeps writing by itself’, ‘I have no regrets’, and ‘I’m filled with fear and desire’. Koos van der Merwe called Cohen ‘die meester van liefdesliedjies!

In 1994 Cohen met monk Roshi, and he turned to Zen Buddhism, becoming a Buddhist monk at the Zen Centre at Mount Baldy. He cynically said about these years: ‘I had no real religious aptitude’, and ‘I failed as a monk‘! Yet Buddhism is firmly entrenched in his lyrics. Cohen said ‘The less of who I was began to feel better’.  He was involved with Kelly Lynch, who also was his business partner, and she misappropriated most of his money. He was awarded $5 million by the courts, but he never saw any of his money, which forced him to go on a last concert tour lasting five years, in 2008, at the age of 73, to generate income. 

In 2015 he recorded his last album ‘You want it darker’ with his son Adam, at the time when he already had cancer and suffered from a spine malady, the latter making sitting uncomfortable. In this 2016- released album there were many references to his impending death: ‘I’m leaving the table’, ‘I’m out of the game’. He heard that his former lover Marianne was suffering from cancer too, and he wished her a ‘good journey’:

‘Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road’. 

Leonard Cohen died three weeks after the release of his last album, on 7 November last year, at the age of 82. 

We saw the following documentaries:

#  ‘Songs from the Road‘, documenting a tour which included Tel Aviv, London, Oberhausen in Germany, Jose in California, Gothenburg, Manchester, Helsinki, Indio in California, and London in Ontario. 

#. ‘I’m your Man‘, a film of a Cohen tribute concert arranged by the Canadian Consulate. Bono was involved in the concert, and is quoted extensively in the documentary, saying of Cohen: ‘biblical significance’; it took a long time for each song to come;  ‘it became easier when I no longer expected to win’; he is ‘tactile and sensual‘; ‘he has you at all stages of your life’, he makes you laugh, brings you to your knees‘; the ‘Divine Comedy’; a ‘rare talent’, ‘he makes something beautiful out of blackness’. Cohen was a snappy dresser, only ever wearing suits, saying he did not feel comfortable in jeans. 

#   ‘Bird on a Wire’, a documentary of a concert tour of 200 European cities in 1972, including Tel Aviv.

#   The Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 was attended by 600000 music lovers. Performers alongside Cohen were Kris Kristoffersen, Judy Collins, Pink Floyd, Joan Baez, and Jimi Hendrix. 

Congratulations to Jennifer Johnson and her fellow organizers in planning and organizing the ‘Weekend of Leonard Cohen’. A special accolade goes to Michael MacKenzie and his Wahnfried theatre, at which all the documentaries were screened, and the two live concerts were held. Congratulations too to the Tebaldi’s restaurant team of Billy Kennedy, Michael Pettit, Margaret Johnston, Graham Goble, and their staff, in creating and serving kosher dishes to suit the theme of the lunch.

Poetry in McGregor will be held from 25 – 27 August, as a platform for and to honour poets. Money raised will go to The McGregor Arts Community charity projects in McGregor, dedicated to the arts and music, to keep local children off the street.

Tebaldi’s restaurant, Temenos Retreat, Voortrekker Street, McGregor. Tel (023) 625-1871

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter: @Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein


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