Part three of practicing Physical Distancing by going for a ride along the Berliner Mauerweg.
This photo is never going to do justice to the insane yellow-green of the fields, or the empty flat expanse, and if you look really really really close, you’ll see a few people wandering out in it. This was just before I turned off the Mauerweg and took a guess at how to get back to Neukölln. Favourite way of riding, that. So long as the sun was more-or-less behind me, I was going home. My bike’s in truly terrible condition these days, two years now since the last rebuild and I’ve done something like 12,000 kilometres and some of the components have done way more than that. But it’s amazing how it just keeps going (until it doesn’t hahahaha not funny when I’m in the middle of nowhere).
Yes, this is work. I’m still a dancer, and doing ballet barre at home and all the yoga and core and other work is part of it, but doing this kind of physical labour is necessary for me. It feels like after more than twenty years of this, if I stop I’ll fall apart. And I’m very aware of the luxury I have (despite being poor and all the other caveats) to do this, now especially. Let’s talk about Gaza, or white French doctors proposing testing Coronavirus vaccines in Africa, and casually dehumanising a whole continent in the same sentence they do the same to sex workers. Or the massive increase in racism, Islamophobia and Asianphobia (dunno if that’s quite a word but it’s defo a thing), simultaneous with governments pushing through anti-transgender legislation and utterly destroying the arts.
I loved biking through and around Großziethen for the third time in as many weeks and loved seeing so many Muslimah women and families out there. I feel very much calmer getting into Brandenburg seeing them and knowing it’s not all Naziland like Zeuthen was when I last biked that scary town. And as I came back into Neukölln, I saw gangs of cops out, five or six of them at a time, all white, all in stab-proof vests and heavy gear, and all of them doing the intimidation act and harassing brown boys. Yeah, don’t think we haven’t seen that fuckery get dialled up in every country in the last few weeks. It was a good ride, but it’s never not political like this. Every time I go out, it’s political.
Part two of practicing Physical Distancing by going for a ride along the Berliner Mauerweg.
Going clockwise from Neukölln, it’s all pretty cushy up till Lichtenrade – the whole Mauerweg is pretty cushy, just the distance and very varied surfaces. Around Lichtenrade is the first (optional but not really ’cos we’re here for it) single-track, hard-packed sandy earth alongside fields, shortly after which rail lines cut the Weg and it’s a two-ish kilometre detour into the very pretty and very expensive-looking, most southern suburb of Berlin, along some of the roughest cobbles I’ve ever had the pleasure of being pounded in the arse by. (Hands are not so thrilled with the pounding, but suck it up, hands.)
It’s quite difficult in a photo to make cobbles look as gnarly as they really are, and this final section, looking back up Mozartstraße. from the corner of Beethovenstraße is the smoothest of the lot. And maybe I’ve been riding cobbles so much that I’ve got used to them and know how to ride them, and my memory is more of the thrashing I received the first time than how far from flat and smooth they really are. Anyway, I always wanted to photograph them to remember how much fun I have on them. And every time I hit some cobbles I think there should be a Spring Classic in Berlin, touring the cobbles. This lot would be in, the brutal cobble hill on Wannseestraße by Griebnitzsee also, and the hilariously rough and slippery and corner-y and defo scary when it’s wet and there’s any velocity involved Jägersteig in the forest of Waldgelände Frohnau at the far north of Berlin. Cobbles. Better than asphalt.
Practicing Physical Distancing again. I needed to get out of my apartment, out of Neukölln, out of the city, do some riding, riding until I forget to think (takes at least 45 minutes), not hard riding (which is what Tempelhofer Feld so easily becomes, round and round, pushing pushing).
I got up early with not enough sleep to get to the supermarket before it got too hectic, same young guy working physical distancing out front, stupid white dude inside taking ‘me in mask in the vegetable section’ selfies, holding everyone up. Cannot imagine bro is any kind of influencer. Third week of no toilet paper in any of my usual supermarkets, one said, “Ja, not for another two weeks,” me getting fancy with shower bidet these days. No pasta or beans either.
It took me a couple of hours to get motivated to do the riding, starting again with the dead nice cobbles on Neukölln side-streets as I headed east, then onto the Berliner Mauerweg, which was sort of busier than last week but more spread out, a few stupid white dudes on bikes going way too fast through busy areas or blowing snot from their nose, and then it all quietened down when I went off on a track I’ve never been before, turning left at Dörferblick instead of right, and vaguely heading for Großziethen. That’s part one, anyway, spring in Brandenburg, blue skies after months of grey and damp and cold.
North-west Europeans love silver birch, and German painters love it like no other. There’s this park of them along the Berliner Mauerweg, Südpark, a bit east of Dörferblick, where they’re planted so thickly it’s like a German Impressionist riot. I’ve seen at least one painting somewhere this committed to vertical white lines, not going to get carried away and try to find it.
Doing self-preservation riding again, and avoiding Tempelhofer Feld on the weekend. First, finally did the Weserstr. cobbles, which are dead tasty. Then, did the same ride as last week but in the opposite direction, and when I got to a bit after this photo, turned off to Großziethen, ’cos I thought I might find a way up that massive old rubbish hill from last week. Didn’t. Good ride anyway.
I was going to do some laps of Tempelhofer Feld today, but remembered last weekend when it was fucking packed. Berlin and all of Germany is facing an Ausgangssperre, a proper curfew and lockdown like Italy, and I didn’t and don’t want to add to the problem by being another person at the old airport, irrespective of how much ‘social distancing’ I’m doing, and I don’t want to be counted among those wankers who’ve never learned responsibility and obligation to community.
So I buggered off south down Hermannstraße, hung a left at the border with Brandenburg and practiced self-preservation along the Berliner Mauerweg. People were out, but mostly in ones and twos, or families, plenty of solo cyclists also. Let’s be clear, quarantine at home is going to kill people and ruin the lives of a whole heap more, people who never come into contact with the virus. “Quarantine without testing is a project of social control that transfers responsibility for sickness from states to individuals” which the governments (city, state, federal, EU) have done such a fucking remarkable job of in their deliberate abnegation of responsibility. This is what happens when crisis necro-capitalism meets a real fucking crisis, one that can’t be bailed out or austerity-ed away or debated or ‘both sides’ or any other bullshit jizzed in our faces by the utterly, utterly ineffectual governments and political parties of all the countries hooked on ‘economic growth’ at the expense of actual, real, long-term caring for community. And by ‘community’ I mean everything, trees, land, birds, the sad canal running through Wedding that I love, and not just people, like we’re magically isolated and atomised from what we are inextricably a part of.
The ride curved north and into a dead tasty headwind, pushing me into one of those trances where I get all aero, breathing endlessly and hard and staying in and with that suffering, burdening myself, remembering Annemiek van Vleuten doing her 100 kilometre solo to win the road world championships, Kasia Niewiadoma, Marianne Vos. It’s good to have women whose level of finding joy in suffering is so far beyond mine. It’s so different from cyclocross, those short gut-churning efforts, the exhausting concentration of technical riding at speed and physically maxed out. This is just sticking at it, over and over, getting comfortable in it until it’s over. Riding until I abrade away some of the anger and fear and sadness.
This photo would have been slightly different but my iPhone battery decided to die. Anyway, it’s just south of Freizeitpark Am Vogelwäldchen, which itself is just south of Gropiusstadt, and looking west at the old Mülldeponie Großziethen. That’s not a hill, that’s a rubbish dump!
Thank you, dear.
Wait for the final edits. So many other photos we are going through.
Expressing the shit of this time.
reminds me a bit of this photographer from the 80s / 90s who did black and white stagings
trying to remember his name
My friend in the photos took his inspiration from him but I cannot recall his name.
Such powerful works he did.
Crazy dark stuff with people with disabilities, corpses, etc.
Decapitated corpse heads kissing. This guy.
i wish you could see how stunned with the beauty of these i am.
I met Michael Garza in Guangzhou eighteen years ago. He’s still there, still principal bassoon with the orchestra, also with a woodwind quintet, Pan Pacific Ensemble, we see each other every couple of years when he blows (ha ha) through Europe, and he’s my strongest connection to a city I have a deep love for, as well as being one of my dearest friends.
He sent me these photos a few days ago and like I said, I was stunned. Chinese puppet theatre, butoh, Día de Muertos, deep queerness, heavy memories of AIDS in the ’80s, SARS (which we were both in Guangzhou for, the smell of burning vinegar in the damp winter air, and that train ride with Yunna back from Wuhan in the night, getting messages telling us to stay away from the city because there was a plague). Photos by Gustavo Thomas so ya know.
Michael’s orchestra closed a couple of months ago, long before the rest of the world got over their racist fuckery and thought about taking this shit seriously. (Very aside here, I think the disaster underway in Europe and America is substantially because of the nationalist and white supremacist ideology stretching back to the Renaissance – or late-19th century imperialism and colonialism if that’s too long a time for you to grasp.) Every single artist I know or know of woke up some time in the last weeks and found themselves unemployed, all their upcoming work cancelled, and no idea when they might return. The better-off ones have – for the moment – family and friends to rely on, but there’s a lot, a very large lot who were already doing it hard. Not all of them artists either. I already see this for myself, trans, immigrant, neurodiverse (fuck I hate that word), multiethnic, queer, not in a relationship, there’s a marked difference already. I fully expect, like every other time in European history when shit got bad, people like us are going to be the first to get fucked. Art like this, then, arriving across continents and hemispheres in a messaging app convo, feels good, feels necessary, feels like we’re forcing our way into being remembered, holding on to beauty and love when we’re being told, again, to give it up.
The second book of S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy. I did not re-read the fat slab of pages of the first, The City of Brass, before reading this, but there was enough exposition to remind me of who’s who and what’s where. I loved the first novel; this one I thought could have used a trim, kinda like how the Harry Potter novels expanded as they went on. It also hit me on a peeve of cliffhanger endings. I don’t read novels to be left unfinished and waiting for the next, that’s what sci-fi TV shows are for — even if it’s a trilogy or series, it’s possible to make each one self-contained without compromising the main narrative. Around the time I was reading this, I also felt a nagging pull to read more than just sci-fi and fantasy (in the fiction realm, I mean). It’s been a ride, the last many years, but with Omar Sakr and a heaving mass of poets and writers who touch me, who feel real and immediate and necessary …
A while ago (like early this decade at the latest), I tried to formulate in words how I ‘audience’. Go where they are. It’s not enough to say, oh I support underrepresented and marginalised ‘x’ demographic. This all too easily becomes oh I want to support ‘x’ but they’re not doing ‘thing I like’. The number of trans women or feminine people, Middle Eastern, Brown, Black, Indigenous, queer, combinations of, and writing sci-fi is approximately fuck all. So if I stick to what I like (in this instance, I like sci-fi), I’m gonna be supporting approximately fuck all. Go where they are. Go where we are. If we’re writing poetry, that’s where we go. If we’re making loud, scary music of ‘currently vilified genre’, that’s where we go. If we’re doing some weird sport, and “I’m not into sport”, child, you are now. I was sitting in my favourite café on Sonnenallee yesterday, having a mad good yarn with someone I’d just met, who said for them, their ability to be engaged in other people’s deep interests is (paraphrasing, ’cos brain like tofu), “I admire their focus.” Go where the people are you want to elevate, whether they’re ‘your’ people or not, admire what they do, even if you don’t (at first) ‘like’ it. Being an audience is not always about oneself. Marginalisation is never going to let many of us in; the terms and conditions for admittance make us palatable and legible to them without them having to make any effort to learn about any of us. So we gotta go where we are. Make being audience a privilege to be before people creating.
Unmotivated to blog / write about what I’m reading, I didn’t even do an annual Books of The Year thing in October — and I’ve been doing that for ten years. “Life Project” and all (still quoting Emile on that), so … change and shit, I suppose. Still reading though, at a much diminished rate, partly because lack of time and energy and eyes needing a rest. Books have been read and are being read. No particular order.
Miri Song’s Multiracial Parents: Mixed Families, Generational Change, and the Future of Race, ’cos I’m trying to understand myself, my family’s history, and all. You’d think by the time you’re in your forties, you’d have this somewhat nailed, but nope, thanks to family secrets and family aspirations to whiteness, or some shite. Like my middle name never blew that fantasy up.
Charles Stross’ The Labyrinth Index, nth book in a series I’m long over. I keep reading like an old lover whose time has passed and, yeah, Lovecraft mythos is really creaking on its Zimmer frame these days.
JY Yang’s The Descent of Monsters. Very much a favourite author right now. South-East Asia is slaying it in the sci-fi / fantasy lately. I wish these were longer and JY Yang would write more. The so-far trilogy for some reason reminds me of The Water Margin (水滸傳, Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn), which is, I dunno, about as high praise as you can get from me.
Nick Hubble, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Joseph Norman’s The Science Fiction of Iain M. Banks. Only two references to Feersum Endjinn. I was broadly disappointed. More so because trying to divide Banks’ work up into skffy / non-skiffy, or sci-fi / non-sci-fi, is never going to work (and I’m not even going to start on the glaring errors referring to The Hydrogen Sonata). Ken McLeod’s essay was beautiful.
Ben Aaronovitch’s Lies Sleeping: The Seventh Rivers of London novel. Still holding fast to ‘Harry Potter, a black cop from London estate’. Glad he finally dealt to the Faceless Man, and hope he moves on a bit from this narrative arc (apparently, yes, he is planning to). I’m likely to re-binge this series rather soon, while listing to proper LDN Grime.
Ruth Pearce’s Understanding Trans Health: Discourse, Power and Possibility. Not fun reading. Considering lending to my endocrinologist because he gives a shit but I swear it’s like the last 30 years of ‘progress’ hasn’t happened in Germany. Primarily focussing on the UK and NHS, but I’ve dealt with health systems in several countries around the world (either Euro, or influenced by / aligned with Anglo models), and “Tru dat” was said a lot. Also “Fuck cis people”.
Becky Chambers’ Record of a Spaceborn Few: Wayfarers 3. Reading a lot of series, me. This is the series where nothing much happens, in a rather large universe (of the world-building type, I mean; mostly takes up a small bit of a small bit of a galaxy). I’ll keep reading because for some reason I like the story.
Kevin Martens Wong’s Altered Straits. Currently reading, and had been waiting for this for an age. Trans-dimensional, time-travelling corporeal horror. Once again, South-East Asia, and Singapore bringing it in the sci-fi / fantasy.
Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray. I’ve been reading her blog for years. I kind of talked back to her a lot while reading, particularly of the, “Well, if you’d read history, and get outside a euro-centric model of science and philosophy, maybe some of these ‘intractable’ problems wouldn’t be there in the first place?” A frustrating like.
Tiffany Trent and Stephanie Burgis’s The Underwater Ballroom Society. Plus for the cover, plus also for Ysabeau S. Wilce, a stack of really good stories, probably going to have to read some of these authors.
Victor Mair’s translation of Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu. He of the blog Language Log. Also been reading that for years. And I knew he was all about this stuff, but somehow blind spot assisted me in missing this. I like Zhuangzi heaps, my 404 is not complete without.
I also re-read a bunch of other novels, some Iain Banks, and Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy for the second time, even better than the first.