Ocean Conversation with



P.’s apartment. The apartment is on the first floor of a stylishly renovated industrial building in the center of Brussels. It is decorated in a minimal manner. It has an air of vastness to it. Everything – bed, desk, wall – is either on wheels or foldable or otherwise easily movable in order to allow for complete spatial reorganization at will. We sit at the kitchen table, which is directly in front of the main entrance.


P.’s voice is in the mid-ranges. It has a warm and inviting grain to it. She speaks English with what seems to be a perfect English accent. She beams, her presence quite luminous and extroverted. Her voice similarly projects outwards without seeming imposing or intrusive.

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

P.H.I have no specific nostalgia either to the ocean or the sea.

Although I spent some of my childhood holidays by the sea → I am a very good swimmer. I spent a lot of time swimming in rivers: particularly in Cheshire, England. I have a strong relationship to water but more to fresh water than to seawater.

I grew up on a farm → by the River Dane. The river ran through the fields of the farm. It is a cold + fast river. The river made a loop around the fields.

I learned to swim by trying to swim 10 strokes, one after the other, if I managed I would get a small reward from my mother.

The farm had a hill on it. We had about 50 sheep. I remember one stormy night, when my parents and I had gone out, the river overflowed and flooded the meadow where the sheep were grazing. When we came back in the middle of the night, we found all the sheep crammed on this one tiny hill and surrounded by water. I remember having to carry them, one by one, from the hill to the house across the water. It was in the Midlands.

My grandparents had a house by the sea in the Netherlands. It was in Zeeland, a part of Holland, which is → close to the sea. → We used to sit in those wooden cabins near the sea. I remember that at night, you could see little larvae that lit up in the water.

Then, when I was living in Istanbul → I saw a dolphin from the boat while crossing from the Asian side to the European side.

I also lived in Rotterdam which is a port city.

I also spent some time in Rio de Janeiro. The beach in Rio has a very important presence. There is an openness of the city towards the beach. However, at the same time, the beaches of the city are wild zones. There is extreme poverty and inequality in the city, so there is also a lot of crime.

M.M.How do you mean that the beach has a relevant presence in the city?

P.H.Well, in terms of the physical atmosphere of the city. But also economically→. Rio is a big port. In fact, in Rio there is a → blurred boundary between beach life + city life. There is an atmosphere of carefreeness + leisure and + at the same time there is a certain tension in the air because of the high crime that happens on the beach(es).

In many places we “live with our backs to the water,” → I remember people saying this about many cities in Turkey.

There are huge cruise ships arriving in the Bosporus, they have a special mooring area, a zone, which is closed off to people of the city. Those huge ships are like skyscrapers. I learned to love and hate Istanbul. Especially now so many people are in jail... Things to love were especially people, but currently, it is a very dark place to be.

The city has been raped. There is a series of investment projects and commercial buildings. There is a non-sensical destructive construction going on.

The city lies in a V of water. There’s the Golden Horn and there is the Bosporus. The city is arranged on all sides of V’s legs. There is a beauty that takes you but it’s a cold and distant beauty, maybe too cold

I love beach holidays: I just spent a few days in La Gomera.:Swimming in the sea there gave me a certain feeling of liberation.

In Bonaire, the sea is very transparent. When swimming out into the sea, there is a point where all of a sudden the bottom of the sea deepens so abruptly, it goes from seeing the seabed clearly, to a huge black hole, without any transition, it completely disappears from view. Reaching this point left me feeling really scared. Even though it has no physical consequences for my swimming on the surface. Still, I almost did not dare to swim past this point. I felt like standing on the edge of a cliff.

When I am swimming in the ocean I get the feeling of being in infinity something that just goes on+on. The ocean is undividable. It’s not just your complete freedom of movement within this body of water, but also that there is literally no border to it. The particles that are touching you could have been somewhere else only two days before. The ocean gives me a notion of holism.

M.M.Is there an element of ocean that is particularly relevant for you? During our conversation you placed a particular relevance on swimming, for example. Would you like to focus on this? Or would you rather refer to something else?

P.H.I would like to mention the power of the ocean. A power that has different facets:

1. First, one could describe it as sublime, in the classical sense (i.e. you feel very small.)
2. Secondly, is the power it has to lift you when you swim. It’s buoyancy.
There is an ecstasy of the thing that can engulf you + charm you + suddenly you become conscious of your own vulnerability.

There’s a French film (Welcome by Philippe Lioret): about a refugee crossing the channel by swimming. The film describes the process of him getting ready for the crossing, training like mad. I don’t remember if in the end you actually see him entering the water, but I have a clear (perhaps imagined) image of him progressively getting disoriented + getting sleepy.