I disembark a ferry in the port of Hydra in early spring 2005 and take the street to the right of the clock tower. The street bends to the left then to the right past a supermarket. I keep going till I come to an open area with a taverna on the right and tables across the street on the left. Right after the taverna I turn right and go up the steps, turn left onto a street which is mainly steps going up, keep going till I come to a street named A.KRIEZI (unusually there is a street name sign), turn right and walk till I come to the Four Corners yellow-painted supermarket. Turning down the narrow lane on my right at the side of the supermarket, I take the lane to the left and then quickly right and end up in front of Leonard Cohen’s house, with a double grey door and a large hand knocker.
2005 is the year when it becomes known that Cohen’s manager has stolen all his assets, which makes him tour the world again and sing his old songs some of which are written here, on this small island in the Saronic Gulf 2 ferry hours from Athens.
He comes to Hydra in from London in 1960 and buys this house half a year later, living here with Marianne Ihlsen who is typing at a table on Cohen’s battered Olivetti on the back cover of the album Songs from a Room (1967), smiling in half-embarrassment at the camera. Cohen writes his novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), and the songs for his first albums which include the classic anthem So Long, Marianne, about their parting.
In a letter to his sister, Cohen describes how gangs of carousing locals stumble drunkenly up the steps of his street, “their arms about each other’s shoulders, singing magnificent close harmony”. This inspires the line “like a drunk in a midnight choir” in the Bird on the Wire song, written on Hydra and finished in a motel on Sunset Boulevard in 1969. It’s origin is disarmingly literal: when he first arrives on Hydra there are no wires on the island. In the mid-1960s, the arrival of telephone poles and electricity means that wires appeares for the first time on the landscape, slung loosely across alleyways, including outside his house. At first Cohen is despondent but then he notices birds come to the wires. And the song is born.
Having got much criticism from his friends for the musical setting of his first album which included strings and horns, his second album Songs from a Room is much more sparse. The songs are immensely beautiful in their minimalistic settings, they have a singular integrity and are prior to none. I never zap or skip any of the tracks, always listening to the album in the way it was conceived. They are songs from a man called Leonard, from an island called Hydra.
Leonard Cohen passed away on November 7, 2016, 82 years old.
Estonia has an administrative reform in progress, where local municipalities with populations under 5,000 must merge. If they do it voluntary they get financial compensation, if not, government can inforce compulsory mergers. There are some exceptions, though: small pelagian islands with local authority (Ruhnu, Kihnu, Vormsi) can stay self-governing in spite of that their population is less than 5,000, if they wish and submit reasonable arguments for this to the government by the beginning of the next year. It seems they will.
– “Independence is a sweet word, but the questions is if these small municipalities have enough administrative capability,” says Elle Puurman from Wormsi, active member of the ESIN board.
The Ministry of Finance’s map of possible future mergers of local governments across the country paints a motley picture of a country full of parishes too small to remain independent under the stipulations of the new administrative reform. Those who go willingly in merging with neighbouring parishes will be rewarded handsomely for their cooperation; those who don’t will be forced to merge anyway come the new year.
According to the latest round of administrative reforms, the new government-mandated minimum population required for an independent administrative unit is 5,000, although the suggested minimum population is actually 11,000 residents per local government. Extra effort made in meeting the latter number will be rewarded as well — in addition to the 100€ per resident already to be paid out to merging parishes, any local governments formed by merger to newly surpass the 11,000-resident mark will be awarded an additional 500,000€ merger grant as well.
The grant, however, is only available until January 1, 2017, after which any remaining parishes not meeting minimum size requirements will be forced into merging regardless.
In certain situations, such as with parishes with much smaller neighbours, the new stipulation all but requires that the small parishes all merge with one another and possibly with their larger neighbour as well, as that is the only way to guarantee that all of the parishes involved would meet the 5,000-minimum requirement.
This is the case in Hiiumaa, for example, where the island’s largest parish, Hiiu parish, would only need the addition of one of its neighbouring parishes to surpass the 5,000 mark, but no two remaining parishes combined would be able to meet the requirement as well.
The parishes of Saaremaa are similarly planning to merge into one big parish, with the exception of the neighbouring island of Muhu, which, like Vormsi, can take advantage of an exception that will be made for small maritime islands that do not wish to merge local governments with any island or mainland neighbours.
Pictures: Kihnu lighthouse
Greek journalist Kostas Argyros, seconded by Eleni Korovila and a film team, has been island-hopping around Europe, covering some of its small islands. On Sunday evening, the Greek television program “28europe” showed his 45 minute long report https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AVzC1LvOCw
Such great contributions from islanders Bengt, Lefteris, Tarja, Camille, Christian, Denis, Laurids and Maria. Such beautiful portraits of Skaftö (though Bengt seems a bit mislocated), Prangli in Estonia, Eigg in Scotland, the Åland Islands, Houat and Ouessant in France, Sejerø in Denmark and Tilos in Greece. But not just beauty – Kostas catches some of the important issues regarding life on small islands.
I especially like the interviews with Tarja from Prangli and Maria from Tilos.
All in all: a fantastic portrait of ESIN (the only thing missing is English subtitles).
Georgia is a golden-haired, 18-month-old girl whose smile lights up the room. Being the first person to be born on Easdale for 80 years, she occupies a special place in the hearts of everyone on this rocky island lying east of Mull, close to the coast of Scotland.
It seems almost everybody of the 70 inhabitants played a part in her safe delivery into this world last July. She is the daughter of Lyndsay and Dave Munro and, as her time approached, a helicopter complete with doctors and midwives was scrambled to fly her to Paisley and the security of a consultant-led team. “However, she had obviously waited long enough,” said Lyndsay, “and decided to make an early entrance. The midwives and doctors simply decided to make the house a maternity ward as it became clear there would be no birth in Paisley that night.”
Her birth, it seemed, was like a sanctification of Easdale and some of those who witnessed it were profoundly affected. Lyndsay said: “I even received gifts for her from some Americans who were visiting the island that week and were caught up in all the drama.”
Easdale belongs to the sprawling council area of Argyll and Bute. Mike MacKenzie, the MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has his home on Easdale, where he has lived for 36 years after being brought up in Glasgow.
“Easdale is a microcosm of what’s been happening in this part of Scotland for many years,” he said. “Now we want to address the situation and maintain this island’s long-term viability. I’m originally from Oban with roots in Argyll going back generations, like many on the island. But after being reared and educated in Glasgow, I knew I just had to return here to put down roots. I only got involved in local politics because I simply didn’t think the council properly understood how much potential we have here and how to develop it.”
This is a place that, on your first few encounters, seems to offer the prospect of gifts to requite the yearnings of any soul. With this though, comes a challenge to any sense of self-reliance or instant gratification. It calls for the humility of having to rely on others.
“You can’t be an island on an island like this,” says MacKenzie.
Last month the islanders’ gentle Mayday message was carried into the world in a stunning eight-minute film called “Easdale – A wild Community”. It was shot and produced free of charge by Patrick Rowan, who works with the island outdoor activities firm, Seafari Adventures. Using time-lapse and pull focus filming techniques, it captures the beauty of this place in all its car-free glory better than mere words.
The members of the ESIN Board recently received a call for the next board meeting 25/10, two weeks in advance. It gives them the possibility to check the agenda, the issues and the proposals with all of you: board members of national island organisations and islanders on our 1,400 islands. It also makes it possible to translate the agenda into other languages – Estonian, Croatian, Italian…?
Not much of an islander and not much of an island poet except for his 1960 bootleg recording of Woody Guthrie’s ”This Land is Your Land ” where the text goes “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to New York island”.
New York an island? Well, I know that Manhattan is the same size as my own island Kökar (58 square kilometres) – but there are much more people on Manhattan. I also know that New York has some beautiful small islands: in the Long Island Sound alone there are 20 islands, once known as the Devil’s Stepping Stones because of an Native American fable.
The Upper East Side Reef is populated by 12,300 inmates and their officers, the island is barely 400 acres and serves as New York’s main jail complex. The only way you’re visiting here is getting yourself arrested.
Hart Island is populated only by the dead: it is a cemetary with well over a million souls buried beneath it, a third of them infants and stillborn babies. A sad and beautiful place where you could play Dylan’s ”Forever Young” in your headphones. One of his great songs that merit the prize. Says an old fan.
In Swedish, the word for island is ö – an o with two dots above, like a french tréma. It is a beautiful word, depicting a small, round island with two lighthouses.
Vinön meaning Wine Island is a small, almost round island in lake Hjämaren in Sweden with an area of 5 square kilometres. There are two buoys showing the way to the island from the mainland harbour: Kalvö and Ramberget (although the dots are under the o).
Vinön has 100 full time residents, 400 part-time residents (90 days/year) and 100 weekend dwellers (50 days/year), making the human pressure 212 persons (not 100 as you might think if you just go for the census figures).
Vinön has recently been well described: first, in the “Smilegov” project 17/9/2015 (https://europeansmallislands.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/vinon.pdf), then in the “How to Read an Island” 10 p University course, when student RoseMarie Hellén made a portrait of the island where she lives.
And what a beautiful portrait it is! She observes the island from different perspectives. It is like a Picasso painting where the artist shows that we do not see objects like a camera – frozen images of life – but from many sides simultaneously, with the present being blurred and blended with memories of the past and the future. Like when a man looks at a woman he loves and what he sees is a mix of remembrances from their youth, of how she looked the same morning and of how she looked just a few seconds ago.
That goes for an island, too. We see it as it was, we see it as it is and we see it as we want it to be. Optimism and pessimism are mixed, facts and feelings are shuffled together, creativity and action mingle.
RoseMarie uses Edward de Bonos concept of six thinking hats to make this many-facetted portrait of her beloved island. Each hat gives a different perspective, a new opening on the same old questions we all share on our islands. It is a beautiful portrait which you can find here: https://europeansmallislands.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/threats-and-possibilities-of-a-small-island-society-in-the-middle-of-sweden.pdf