He’s Canada’s most famous troubadour, an international literary and musical icon who counts Prince Charles among his fans. But Leonard Cohen is also a loving father of two, a man who appreciates a good smoked meat sandwich, a bagel and, appropriately, Montréal, the city where he grew up. Cohen’s latest book, Book of Longing (McClelland & Stewart), is in stores now.
“Montréal has a very special flavour for me and, I think, for everybody else that comes from there—once a Montréaler, always a Montréaler. Of course, things change.
“My neighbourhood, it hasn’t been quite wrecked yet. It’s getting prettied up, but it’s still pretty good. I’m in what they call the Plateau.
“I go to a lot of the restaurants and little coffee shops around there. I get my smoked meat sandwiches at the Main. They’ll make it whatever way you want it. Some people like the fat.
“I tend to go for the fat, and the pickles and the French fries. Schwartz’s is very famous. It’s across the street. The Main isn’t so famous, but that’s where I go.
“My house is on a tiny street and taxicabs can’t even find it, although it’s right in the middle of the Plateau. It faces onto a tiny park that’s really just half a block wide and about a small block long. It’s a green space with a gazebo, some elm trees and some nice stonework.
“My house was built around 1903. I bought it in about 1972 to 1974, when my kids were born. All the houses are around 60 to 100 years old in that part of town.
“I’ve written a lot of stuff there. The kitchen table is a good place to write. I have a really old stove with a gas heater. It’s a nice place to sit in the winter because you can warm up the entire room. There’s good light in the place, too, with windows on three sides. I have three or four really good tables in the place, old Quebec pine tables. They’re not really antiques, but they’ve been there 30 [or] 40 years, and they were old when I got them.
“I write on all kinds of things: napkins, notebooks, the computer. If I’m not at the kitchen table, the computers on the third floor, but I usually have a notebook with me all the time.
“I feel at home when I’m in Montréal—in a way that I don’t feel anywhere else. I just love it. I don’t know what it is, but the feeling gets stronger as I get older.”
Photo: Jens Schott Knudsen