Seen off Sonnenallee, desert sand immaculate and shiny with tires looking like they haven’t rolled further than showroom to transporter, a 2018 or later (I think) Toyota Land Cruiser J76 Hardtop absolutely stunting. The thing that got me is the Tunisian temporary registration / foreign residents license plate. Yes, Wikipedia has a truly work-of-art beautiful per-country documentation of license plates, and yes, I went through every Arabic or adjacent or possibly country looking at the plates as soon as I worked out ن ت was not a country abbreviation, and yes, I was dead pleased and relieved when I finally saw those two letters. “20 Pound of Diesel mate”
Seen on Uferstraße, Berlin-Wedding parked outside Uferhallen while Dasniya and I were doing veeery slow blockies on foot post-gigantic steamed fish lunch and coma-ed out. A 2003–2005 Buick Park Avenue Ultra, yeah fukken Ultraaaa says so on above the back bumper and triple vents above the front wheel arch and Supercharged! Not a turbo but Americans love their whirring superchargers bolted to V8s — or V6 in this case. Here for the burgundy with a hint of purple deep paint job, wads of chrome especially on the b-pillar, and Those Rims! True early-’00s tuner style and I’m generally not into American cars but shit looks low-key tight. “If I fill up my tank it’ll make me late.”
Off for my afternoon training ride, picking through traffic on Reuterstraße, crossing Sonnenallee and there’s a big unit of 4WD behind me. I was feeling sharp after my last ride, first proper interval sprint training since before Ramadan, using the traffic lights turning green as out-of-saddle starts, keeping the pace tight. Heading up towards Flughafenstraße, that turbo diesel behind me, I’m indicating as I pull around double-parked cars, two-finger pointing flicks of my wrists, and just past the pedestrian crossing at Erlanger Str. I hear it gun and pull along side me. I’m thinking, “A’right, here we go, bruv in his whip is flexing ’cos he thinks I’m in his lane.” It’s a pristine glossy white bimmer, X5 kinda thing, and he’s got his passenger window down. I’m all about to pull screwface but he doesn’t give me a chance, looks across at me, beautiful black guy with the biggest smile like he’s experienced the most joyful thing, and shouts over.
“I fell in love with you, watching you cycle!”
True, I look hectic sikk, I know.
Of course I smiled back, smiled with, of course, y’know, sometimes this stuff is just real. Sometimes it’s like my serious nah not really but nah kinda yeah fantasy actually pulls up next to me in his whip and gives me a look and compliment that is so completely honest and committed, and truth, I am holding everyone else to his high standards, and my heart filled up like the entire theatre, stalls, balconies and all, went off when Kano joined Giggs at the Roundhouse. Real truth, that.
And as I was doing laps of Tempelhofer Feld in the afternoon sun, thinking of all that, thinking, “Yeah perhaps he read me as a bro?” ’cos I’m tall and kinda slender, and people make a habit of reading taller and more physical as ‘male’, and I have this constant questioning around physicality and masculinity, like all women do, but then I thought, “Okay, if he did, then I’m still taking the compliment,” I’m taking it even if — especially if — he read me as trans, ’cos being able to genuinely express joy and emotion and attraction the way he did, flexing his queer self loudly reading me as masc or straight self into trans chicks, fuck yes, I am here for that. I want and need much more of that unequivocal desire and speaking that desire. And I’ve been talking a lot with my grans lately, Aisha and Iwa, and felt very much this was Allah and the universe reading me, seeing me, seeing me.
I know also some of you reading this, some of you cis women and afab people are gonna wanna tell me how this is objectifying and tell me shit like I don’t already know this, like I haven’t lived this since my early teens, like I would only think and write this if what? I’m seeking validation in misogyny? ’Cos I’m trans? And you think you need to educate me? What can you tell me about anything of what this means, in itself or to me?
A compliment. A compliment is sometimes just a compliment, just reciprocating the joy someone else causes in you, and when I’m receiving it from a source way too an accurate read of what I vibe strongly with, yeah, that’s part of it. Maybe I was that for him too, lighting up the streets of Neukölln, deep in my physicality, and we both looked at each other and laughed in recognising that too perfect moment. Remember that. Remember that beauty. Remember that truth in all what he said.
“I fell in love with you, watching you cycle!”
Shortly after I took this photo, a cyclist, in that very Berlin, not really paying attention “I’m just riding, me,” way, rode up the grot covering the bike path, realised they had to jank hard right around the perversely located orange rubbish bin, then then hard left down the temporary construction ‘alternate route’, wobbled precariously as they saw the old Muslim woman they were about to run into who’d paused where footpath and bike lane merged and vanished into a cattle-race, wobbled right, found some dickhead had left a shitty ride-share e-bike in the lane, wove drunkenly to an almost halt wondering where exactly the town planners had intended them to ride, before continuing on in that also very Berlin, “Passive acceptance of basic shit this city can’t even manage to do right”. The old woman cut across the street, thus avoiding the endless wait at the pedestrian crossing.
I don’t know why this car makes me love it so much, but here we are. The ultimate ’90s blue and gold burbleburbleBRAAAAAPchitterchitter. You all know I should be driving this.
Excluding re-readings of Iain (without the M.) Banks, Steph Swainston, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, and a few others I’ve forgotten because a) too poor for new books, b) too sooky to want to read new books, and c) very much wanting the comfort food of old books, even when I discovered I was hate-reading. Turns out I hate-read. I’m surprised and shamed at my pettiness, but here we are.
New books I did read though:
Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures, by Roma Agrawal, one on the shortlist for the 2019 Jhalak Prize, which in itself is guaranteed dead solid reading every year. And Roma has a podcast now. Buildings and engineering. Nice!
Bullets and Opium: Real-Life Stories of China After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by Liao Yiwu, who is the one Chinese political writer everyone should read, up there with Svetlana Alexievich.
Edges, by Linda Nagata, someone I’ve heard about for years and had never read. Strong reminders of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space trilogy, high probability I’ll keep reading the series.
Fast Ladies: Female Racing Drivers, 1888-1970, by Jean Francois Bouzanquet. Large-format coffee-table-ish book of women hooning the shit out of fast cars. Obviously 10/10.
Geochemistry, by William M. White, which I picked up yesterday and haven’t actually started. One of my periodical forays into geology fun. This one’s packed with formula and equations, which is slightly intimidating.
The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi, which I don’t remember much of, except it reminded me a lot of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, whose The Mortal Word I also read. Chokshi though, didn’t work for me, despite wanting to like it.
Growing Up African in Australia, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, along with Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff’s (of the awesome gal-dem) Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children, both collections of autobiographical essays and both critical reading.
Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, by Brian Eyler, which I was expecting a lot more of, and got instead a weirdly messy history of the river like ’90s white Euro-American journalism.
The October Man: A Rivers of London Novella, by Ben Aaronovitch, this one set in Germany (or Germland as I’ve been calling it recently), and a very German take on “What if, Harry Potter, but he’s a black cop in London?” I also re-binged his entire series while in Spain at the rate of a book a day, “Yeah, seven books will be enough for 12 days …” (runs out of books.)
Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad, which I somehow decided was all about US hardcore. It’s not. A few bands I’ve never listened to, several bands I used to love, revisited while reading and was sad at how they didn’t touch me at all when they used to define the movement of my life. Very worth reading for a particular moment in time and place.
Permafrost. Hello, Alastair Reynolds. Not a novel, sadly, but we had the sequel to Revenger, this year, Shadow Captain, so, can’t be greedy. Basically he’s my Iain M. Banks replacement, and I love his terrifyingly dark Space Opera.
The Raven Tower, by another solid fave and Iain M. Banks replacement, Ann Leckie — probably neither would like being called ‘replacement’, but fuck it, me doing high, awkward praise. This is her venturing out of Space Opera into not-really-fantasy but no obvious spacecraft, and it’s both the best thing she’s written since the Imperial Radch trilogy, and her best stand-alone novel since her first. Very, very, very good.
The Rise of IO, by Wesley Chu, which I have almost no memory of, vague nudgings of recognition when I read the plot, but … nope, not much beyond that.
To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe, edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande, which I’m randomly picking at. Some essays, like dealing with being a black woman academic in Germany, are very head-nodding, yup, it’s all that, uh-huh, others are … Black, cisgender heterosexual (whether middle-class, academic or not) feminism that operates as though trans and queer are things that don’t need to be at all considered, are ancillary, not relevant — like white feminism of the same type — is a thing. Fucked if I know why, either. Especially because my experience of Black feminism / activism in north-west Europe is that it’s hella trans and queer. But maybe they’re not the ones in academia, getting to publish essays.
And that’s it. Potentially acquiring a stack of new books soon, potentially reading them, vague possibility I’ll blog them. It’s all a balance for me between enjoyable focus and going too far with it, pleasure becoming obligation, and all.
Seen on the corner of Dresdener Str. and Oranienplatz. Hectic sick Fiat Abarth 595 in eye acid Adrenaline Green. It’s like they saw the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera green and went, “Hold my barolo.” Absolutely the loudest colour in Kreuzberg. Also one of my all-time fave over-achieving small cars. 180 turbo’d horsepower for a bit over 1000kg is frankly hilarious. 5-speed manual and tops out at 225km/h. And it’s the only one of the recent-ish trend of “Let’s do our old compact city cars again,” that didn’t add, “but bigger and crapper,” to the end of that sentence (Volkswagen Beetle and Mini, I’m looking at you.) Have you ever heard such pretty hoonage? Probably the best, cheap, burbleburblebraaaaapchitterchitter since the WRX slapped a turbo on the boxer and STi’d their way to blue and gold rally glory in the ’90s. “Look like a baller, Ps and that.”
’90s ’00s JDM import tuner spoiler red alert. Seen a couple of times on Weserstraße, the curbside rear quarter panel taken a beating, but oh child observe those rims. Observe the hood vent and spoiler. Observe millennial coupé hatchback hoonage. Tight. Apparently a Toyota Celica 1.8 VVTLi T Sport, or possibly a 1.8 VVT-i, defo 7th Gen. and pretty sure post-facelift, so, 2003 or later. I seriously worked out that from the side indicator lights. Memories of Chapel St. on a Friday night, bass bins rattling glass, underside lighting, proper hoonage backed up both sides from Toorak to High St. “See man driving a German whip.”
Seen so often on Flughafenstraße, then vanished for a few weeks. I almost made a gallery of “Orange things on Flughafenstr. that are not a Jägermeister DTM orange E30 Bimmer”, photos of orange rubbish cans, orange bikes, orange dumpsters, guys in orange safety overalls, no orange Bimmer. Back again today. I stopped my bike ride to at least get this photo. Emile says, “Boxy tight! Nice!” The best looking whip in Neukölln: 1991 BMW E30 325i M Technic Sport in Jägermeister DTM orange. “See man driving a German whip.”
Seen parked on the corner of Sonnenallee for months on end, looking a bit sad through winter, and now sparkling in spring. Metallic cerulean, or ‘Turquoise Pearl 746’, 1992 Toyota MR2 GT T-Bar (MK2 SW20, etc) is one of my favourite pieces of unlikely casual hoonage on the streets of Neukölln. “Give mana-man space, let mana-man breathe.”