Sea In Between

17/05/2024

Seas are often perceived as what stands in between places, a barrier, and what makes an island an island. In Galicia (northern Spain), old land registry certificates used to describe the limits of coastal land property as "bordering England to the North, sea in between". That surprising description in a legal document, that almost reads like poetry, shows a contradictory view of the sea, both as border and as connector. It assumes a closeness of both shores, as if the sea was but a pond in the way between them. Sea farers knew then, as today, that the sea is the opposite of a barrier: it is a flow-encouraging substance that has forever allowed humans and non-humans to spread their worlds. The same sea can separate us and join us.

A decade ago, I moved from a small coastal village on that Northern coast of Galicia, to the UK. I traversed that northern sea of the old registries in a twenty four hour trip on the ferry that joins Santander with Portsmouth. Countless other peoples have done similar journeys through the centuries, even millennia. Close to the place where I was living in Galicia, and even closer to the tiny village where my mother was born, a group of emigrants from what is today England made the move in the opposite direction to mine and founded a community in the sixth century. The village that stands on the site where they settled is called Bretona/Bretoña, pointing to its origins. Not much is preserved from those peoples, but their impact on the history of the area and the region was felt for centuries.

Going back to my hometown in Galicia today, the landscape has an uncanny feeling, a mix of familiarity and strangeness that comes with seeing with fresh eyes something I have seen before thousands of times, and yet I haven't seen in the same way. This is a feeling that modernity has given us, with its new time scales, as Giddens tells us. And this is the reason for the sea to be thought of as barrier and enemy of movement. To see the sea afresh we need an open mind for those different time scales. The sea has its own time like everything else, and if we use its clock we can appreciate the sea as flow and flux, as the substance that allows for the unknown and the known to come together.

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