Ocean Conversation with



Living room, L’s apartment. We sit in the living room. It’s a bright space with large windows and a large table in the middle. Kitchen to the left. An old green sofa on a wooden pedestal on the right next to L’s garden which she has cultivated mostly from friends' plants. There is a very friendly atmosphere to the place and I feel comfortable. I set up the technical equipment on the table and we start the conversation.


L has a deep and warm voice with a certain roughness to it.

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

L.M.The ocean was always there. It was very present. It’s part of the world in which I grew up. I come from a fisherman’s family → so even though the ocean is more of a space of leisure for me, for my family it is more connected to labor.

The ocean is seen as something difficult. It provides you with food but you have to pay for it. You have to work hard in order to get something from it.

Fish is precious. There is a lot of respect for the space they inhabit. There is almost a religious aspect to my family’s relationship with the ocean: → they want to be protected by it. The ocean has a sacred element to it.

The ocean has enormous power as an entity which has agency, that decides. The word ocean is male in Portuguese. The Atlantic is never something that is a given, that can be taken for granted. Being in relation to it is always a fight. It performs its agency quite loudly. It is not a background. It is quite a force. You don’t fuck with it, you have to check it first, you cannot just go in. Boys would do it. They would play with it and its aggressiveness. They would go in and be smashed by the waves.

There is a nostalgic aspect to it as well, I think → it holds the possibility of erasing everything. You feel very helpless when you are around it or in front of it.

There’s a dependency on it, from its power and immensity. There is a thing there that does something in the stomach. There’s also a very strong connection between the ocean
and colonization. Because, you see Portugal has a very long coast. The ocean is a very big resource.

The nostalgia I am talking about is cultural nostalgia. Culturally, I think there is this longing (towards the ocean). A longing to be swallowed by it. The ocean suggests a (possible) disappearance of the human being(s) into it. You see people going into it , far out into it, + you don’t know if and when they are going to come out. You get the sense that you are going in to an environment that makes you vulnerable.

In Portugal you can fish mainly cod and sardines. My uncle used to go out for days and days with big industrial ships to fish. I remember going with my mother to the harbor to see him when he returned.

M.M. On the small Greek island where I often spend the summer, the inhabitants fish a lot. Even if it’s not their profession, they mostly have their wooden boats and when they can they go out to fish. Sometimes also for multiple days. And now with the crisis and their jobs becoming more and more precarious, they consider expensive seafood, like Calamari, to be almost like → gold. They freeze it and know, that if they happen to lose their job, they can always sell it and live off it. Is there a similar sense of dependency and security with respect to the sea and its creatures in Portugal?

L.M. That’s what I meant when I said that the ocean is precious. → My uncle still goes to the rocks on top of the ocean to fish. The rocks are very dangerous and sharp and steep – and he’s 70. Fishing is a very unfair business. My uncle is often staying on the rocks with his fishing rod until 4 am. And I often wonder, what is his relationship to the ocean, actually?

What is it like to know it so well? To know exactly where the fish are? Sometimes I think that maybe, for him, there is even the thing of dying there. Of finally surrendering to it.

My mother told me that my grandfather was an alcoholic and when he got drunk he became very aggressive. So the family would escape to the shore. They had a primitive relationship to it, they considered it their savior. Moreover, they used to catch lobster and octopus to eat because those are the things that they could get on the rocks. Back then you could still find crabs on beach. My mom helped with making nets.

I remember seeing the ocean as an unapproachable monster. The thing with swimming is: I swim badly. My uncle does not know how to swim. Only the boys would risk it, entering the ocean without knowing how to swim.

In Portugal, swimming was very much a class thing. People only knew how to swim if they went to swimming classes. Those kinds of people, that could afford swimming classes, see the ocean as a space for leisure. But for poor people like my family, the ocean was seen as labor + not necessarily as leisure. It still is the case with some people. There is another mode of relation towards it. For poor people, it’s not just about labor but about hard labor. For some it is as if they don’t have the right to pleasure. Pleasure is located in the family for them.

M.M. Is there an element of ocean that is particularly relevant for you?

L.M. Feeling so small, an acute sense of disarmament. The feeling that I can just disappear, I am not important. In front of the ocean, forget about it, you are nothing.

Everything is falling – the moment of encounter with it is linked to the possibility of death. When I’m next to the ocean, I feel like I am just part of it. I don’t have to organize anything. I sense a hollow feeling in my stomach.

I think that this feeling of complete surrender towards the ocean is closely linked to a strong desire to belong. There is an issue with belonging in there. The desire to be part of it. What I’m trying to describe is maybe an intense feeling of being grounded that arises from one’s immediate proximity to the immensity of the ocean. It’s so massive you can’t ignore it.

→ A similar feeling could be evoked once you start thinking of your back and the space that exists behind you.
→ Once you start focusing on where your skin is.

The encounter with the ocean brings about a silencing. A moment of stopping. You realize that you are surrounded by it and the vastness of the surrounding. It’s too loud.