Ocean Conversation with



E.’s kitchen, which is also the living room. The place is familiar to me as I also spent some time living in this apartment. Most walls are dark red; only the wall with the windows towards the street is dark beige. There is a small balcony. The kitchen is positioned against one of the walls of the room. It has wooden cupboards and colorful small tiles. We sit at the big round wooden table and have the conversation while having some snacks.


E.’s voice is quite distinct. It is low and warm. When speaking English she has a Spanish accent. It is quite expressive and engaged, following her changes in mood and enthusiasm by variations in volume and coloring.

M.M. What’s your relationship to the ocean?

E.R.B. My relationship to the ocean has changed. It is now a strange and weird relationship.

I used to perceive it as something related to pleasure and joy – to freedom. It was “nature” and I always associated (good, positive feelings) with it. Living in Greece was my first
encounter with it → like a big discovery of this sensation of nature + of freedom. I was living in Volos at the time + I was travelling all along the coast. At the time, I had never thought about what the ocean really means or is. I had never feared it.

We are not meant to be in the ocean. It is an alien medium for us. We cannot exist there. To be able to be there we have to be able to swim or we have to use something that is external to our bodies. Going to the ocean is like going to the moon.

Since last summer, after the accident, I’ve been very afraid to go into the sea. After the accident, I went to the sea (in Spain). This was not as traumatic as I had imagined it to be, because I was well accompanied. I was with someone who I trust very much + also because I don’t have any memory of the accident. But now I cannot swim far away from the shore anymore.

Even though I don’t have any conscious memory of the event, my body remembers. Because if you are not conscious, when you’re in the water you cannot do anything to survive.

It’s a very vulnerable position to be in. It’s a feeling of falling in the water + not being able to get out. You feel that you are surrounded by water + that you are just falling. You cannot do anything about it. You’re a dead body, so to speak.

If there wouldn’t have been people there with me when it happened, I wouldn’t have survived. If you are alone and something like this happens to you, you have less of a chance at surviving. That is why you need to approach the ocean accompanied. Otherwise, you can feel the loneliness and this feeling is very strong, I had never experienced it before like this.

M.M. Can this not happen anywhere?

E.R.B. Yes. But it has something to do with breathing. You cannot breathe. Breathing is the main condition that we need to survive.

→ On the one hand, we are made of water. → But then water can also kill you in this sense, if it blocks your lungs and you cannot breathe.

M.M. So would you say that you experienced a transformation of what this element meant to you? Did it turn from good to bad?

E.R.B. Not really. Only my idealized, superficial image of what the ocean is disappeared.
What appeared was more of a feeling of being so small in that vastness.

Before I had only seen movies → about survivors. But I had never before felt it in my body – the experience of drowning. →Even though this experience didn’t involve extreme conditions – actually we were very close to the shore and the waters were calm, but that feeling remained.

→ I guess this experience made me feel empathy for people crossing the sea to come to Europe. It made me understand that the ocean is not a kind entity if you are not well prepared for it. If you fall from the boat in the middle of nowhere you are probably going to die there. Now that I know this I can empathize more with other perspectives on this.

I wonder sometimes if the fact that the ocean is so unknown makes us not take care of it. We treat it as if it were a hole. Where you can throw all the trash. I read somewhere – I don’t remember exactly where – that the ocean is known less than the moon.

This movie with Kevin Costner comes to my mind: Waterworld – do you know it? It’s a very bad movie. But it describes this vastness that the ocean has quite well. It presents this apocalyptic scenario where the planet is only water and has covered all the earth…

M.M. Yes, and soil becomes more like gold.

E.R.B. The ocean is in all the apocalyptic movies + fears.

M.M. Is there a specific element of the ocean that you find particularly relevant?

E.R.B. Salt water as I experience it in relation to my body. I want to focus on 3 main things: First, the fact that you cannot drink it. And when you do drink it by accident, you choke. Also, you cannot really drink it because when you do, it makes you thirstier than before you drank it. So you will dehydrate at the end of the process.

There is a paradox inherent in the combination → of salt + water: they have the opposite effect on the human body. But salt water also enables floating.

M.M. It also hurts your eyes.

E.R.B. I don’t remember it consciously but – I don’t know how to say it. If the water enters the body... When I was at the hospital they were taking all the water out of my lungs. If the water gets inside the lungs – the body doesn’t work anymore → its like with boats. With air → you are surrounded by it and there is a flow. It flows in and out of your body easily. But with water there is no flow: the water has to remain outside, otherwise the system doesn’t work. Its like with the law of thermodynamics → there is always the necessity of a barrier between systems.

M.M. Yes, you rely on your body’s waterproofness.

E.R.B. In this sense, salt water is the great cause of when the feeling of gravity has changed.
It is double: if you take advantage of it, you can float inside it. It allows moving in other positions than are possible on land. But if you lose consciousness in the water, you cannot do anything anymore to save yourself.

M.M. For me, what you say sounds like an experience of transformation from life to death.

E.R.B. The ocean is closely related to death.The experience of death is very present in the ocean. That’s why there exist so many mythologies of the ocean. I think of death not always as something negative. I see it more as a transformation. After death, something else can emerge. It is part of a cycle. It happens in nature all the time and we also experience it in our lives. You let parts of yourself die so that you can evolve and adapt.

I guess it’s more about accepting that death is part of life, it is not easy because in Western society death is a bit of a taboo. Also, before you are born you find yourself in a medium of water (the womb). That’s also a transformation – from being in the wet womb to suddenly breathing air.