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MAY 2005 - Recent Posts
Check out the archives for last month's posts.

Spring is like an autopsy - 23.05.05
Welcome to the Big Bibliothèque - 14.05.05
West End wandering - 02.05.05
It's spring again, part II - 01.05.05


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Current Urban Eye Column

Quebec City in Twenty-One Frames May 18, 2005

SPRING IS LIKE AN AUTOPSY
Monday, May 23, 2005 - Christopher DeWolf

In Montreal spring is like an autopsy. Everyone wants to see the inside of the frozen mammoth. Girls rip off their sleeves and the flesh is sweet and white, like wood under green bark. From the streets a sexual manifesto rises like an inflating tire, "The winter has not killed us again!"

Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers, 1966


MONTREAL, May 05 : HOT DAY ON THE STEPS OF PLACE-DES-ARTS.


MONTREAL, May 05 : DE LA GAUCHETIÈRE STREET, CHINATOWN.


MONTREAL, May 05 : MAN ON HIS BACK BALCONY, LATIN QUARTER.


MONTREAL, May 05 : WAITING FOR THE 55 BUS, ST-LAURENT BLVD.


MONTREAL, May 05 : BUSINESSMAN AT PLACE VILLE-MARIE.


MONTREAL, May 05 : EVENING ON QUIET STRETCH OF ST-LAURENT.


MONTREAL, May 05 : VACANT LOT ON ST-LAURENT BOULEVARD.


MONTREAL, May 05 : WARM EVENING IN THE CARRÉ ST-LOUIS.


MONTREAL, May 05 : WARM EVENING IN THE CARRÉ ST-LOUIS.


MONTREAL, May 05 : WARM EVENING IN THE CARRÉ ST-LOUIS.


MONTREAL, May 05 : WARM EVENING IN THE CARRÉ ST-LOUIS.

Head to the archives for last month's posts.
 


WELCOME TO THE BIG BIBLIOTHÈQUE
Saturday, May 14, 2005 - Christopher DeWolf


Montreal's new library. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale du Québec.

The big green thing in the middle of Montreal's Latin Quarter wouldn't look out of place in a suburban office park. Montreal's new Grande Bibliothèque ― which finally gathers Quebec's National Library collection under one roof, along with Montreal's central library collection and nearly half a million new books ― comes across as squat and bland, a product of the don't-be-too-ambitious mentality that has stricken Quebec's leaders like a bad fever since the multibillion dollar Olympic Stadium fiasco.

But step inside and Montreal's newest cultural edifice is everything a library should be: bright, airy and easy to use, with more than enough places to study, plug in your laptop or just sit in a comfy chair and read. Its design and philosophy draw heavily from the pseudo-public spaces that became popular several years ago, such as big-box bookstores with plenty of seating and renovated shopping malls that emphasize natural light and leather sofas over harsh fluorescents and wooden benches. This is a place to gather and loiter, not just to sit down, shut up and work. Unlike Chapters or Indigo, though, the friendly atmosphere is not just a façade for crass consumerism ― the only thing people here are encouraged to consume is knowledge. So far, the library has only been open to circulation for less than two weeks, but it is already busy well-used. Two recent visits revealed a library full of people using it just as they should: reading, working, listening to music and chatting with friends. (For a totally opposite experience, take the metro a few stations west to McGill's prison-like McLennan Library, where students endure years of hard labour under dim lights, glancing up from their books to gaze longingly through dirty slits of glass to the outside world.)

But what about the ugly exterior? Does the library's great interior offer it any sort of redemption? Yes. Even if it's aesthetically unappealing, the bibliothèque is well-integrated into the surrounding urban fabric. Multiple entrances and a direct connection to Montreal's busiest metro station ensure accessibility. The plaza out front is a pleasant place to sit, although the lack of bicycle parking is a definite oversight, considering the library's location on one of the city's busiest bike routes (when I last visited, there were a few dozen bikes locked to trees, parking metres and a temporary fence around a construction site; the one city-owned bike rack available was pathetically overloaded). What's most exciting about the building is its relationship with the adjacent back alley. Currently, it is lined by an empty row of shallow retail spaces with awnings and sliding glass windows; the plan is to use them to create an-open used-book market. It's a perfect way to connect the library to the neighbourhood and create a vital link between the Grande Bibliothèque and the cafés, bars, cinemas and restaurants on nearby St. Denis Street.

The library will have plenty of indirect benefits on the Latin Quarter, too. The city hopes to use it as a catalyst for the improvement of lower Berri Street, a traffic funnel that culminates in a sorry-looking viaduct a few blocks north of the library. Already, the Université du Québec à Montréal, which dominates the neighbourhood, has announced plans to build a $300-million office, university hall and student residence complex on the site of the hideous bus terminal across the street from the library.

In a perfect world, Montreal would have a library that is great both inside and out. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Still, maybe it's best to remind ourselves of that old cliché about books, covers and judging the former by the latter. The Big Bibliothèque might be a clumsy building on the outside, but damn if it isn't a nice library in every other respect.


MONTREAL, May 05 : THE BIBLIOTHÈQUE'S MAIN ENTRANCE


MONTREAL, May 05 : STAIRWELL AND ELEVATORS


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : SLEEPING IN THE STACKS


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : COMPUTER REFERENCE STATIONS.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : READING IN A NEW ARRIVALS SECTION.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : TERRACED WORKSTATIONS.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : DISPLAY IN THE MAP COLLECTION.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : WELL-LIT STUDY DESKS.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : SLEEK AND SPEEDY ELEVATORS.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : HUNDREDS OF SEATS ABOUND IN THE LIBRARY.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : CORRIDOR-CUM-SEATING AREA.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : FOURTH-FLOOR AUDIOVISUAL COLLECTION.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : LISTENING TO MUSIC ON THE FOURTH FLOOR.

Head to the archives for last month's posts.


WEST END WANDERING
Monday, May 2, 2005 - Christopher DeWolf


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : FOURPLEXES ON OLD ORCHARD STREET, NDG.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : CORNER OF SHERBROOKE AND OLD ORCHARD.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : INSIDE SHAIKA CAFÉ ON SHERBROOKE STREET.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : WAITING TO CROSS SHERBROOKE STREET.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : READING THE PAPER ON SHEBROOKE STREET.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : OUTDOOR LUNCH ON SHERBROOKE STREET.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : WALKING DOWN SHEBROOKE STREET.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : THE DÉCARIE EXPRESSWAY.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : SHERBROOKE STREET BRIDGE OVER DÉCARIE.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : SHERBROOKE STREET EAST OF DÉCARIE.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : SHERBROOKE STREET NEAR CLAREMONT.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : WAITING FOR THE BUS AT CLAREMONT ST.

Head to the archives for last month's posts.


IT'S SPRING AGAIN, PART II
Sunday, May 1, 2005 - Christopher DeWolf

Part I can be found in the archives: April 2005.


MONTREAL, Mar. 05 : FREE NEWSPAPERS ON STE-CATHERINE ST.


MONTREAL, Mar. 05 : PANHANDLER ON STE-CATHERINE STREET.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : SPRING ARRIVES AT THE CARRÉ ST-LOUIS.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : COUPLE ON STE-CATHERINE STREET.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : MEN CROSSING STE-CATHERINE AT BLEURY.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : PLACE-DES-ARTS ON A SUNNY APRIL DAY.


MONTREAL, Apr. 05 : CORNER OF MONT-ROYAL AND BRÉBEUF.

Head to the archives for last month's posts.
 

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