Montreal en Paysages by Philippe Poullaouec-Gonidec and Sylvain Paquette


This one has been sitting on various flat surfaces of my apartment and hanging out in my knapsack since last April. I really have to learn to avoid academic treatises in French, but somehow like crack I seem to be addicted to them.

I don’t remember exactly where and when I first heard about Montreal en Paysages by Philippe Poullaouec-Gonidec and Sylvain Paquette, but initially, I thought it was going to be like some sort of bound version of a Flickr Group. You know kind of like any one of these: the It can’t be more Montreal than this pool, the Montreal pool, the Montreal Daily pool, the Montreal Street Photography pool, the Montreal street photography (Revisited) pool, the Montreal Street Art / Art Urbain de Montréal pool, the Montreal ! Group pool and/or the Guess Where in Montréal? pool.

You know some sort of fancy-ass picture book, slash, coffee table book that by merely being in the same room as you makes your IQ 20 points higher and makes you incredibly irresistible to other human beings.

But not quite, actually, not even close. In short, as you might have guessed from my first sentence, it is an academic treatise written in French on how to evaluate, quantify and qualify urban landscapes, with, what I would guess you could call, a focus on Montreal. Which is a pity, because it could have been something so much more, so much enjoyable and much less dry.

I don’t know how it is that I am consistently drawn to these sort of books. I actually try to foster a perception of myself as a rather pig-headed, unilingual, American who is only interested in fast cars and beer. In order to surprise people when the conversation turns to something else, such as the music of Eliot Carter or the nose on a Pinot Noir. But I am always undermining myself, similar in a fashion to one of those people who always gets involved with someone from the wrong side of the tracks.

Does anyone know is there is a local chapter AFBRA? Academic French Book Readers Anonymous? A 12 step program designed to stop me cold turkey. Something with a buddy system, so that when I get the urge to read something like Artur ?mijewski. Scénarios de dissidence, I can call someone who can talk me out of it. Prevent me from having to slog through 150 pages of a multi-syllabic discourse designed in such a way as to be either pedantic or didactic or even worse, both. I could save myself so much trouble.

But enough about my wishes. What about the book? Well first off, on a purely physical level it is 8¼” x 9¾” x ½”. It weighs 35.2 oz and the front cover is a pale green veering towards an aqua/teal side with read and beige highlights.

The cover of Montréal en paysages by Philippe Poullaouec-Gonidec et Sylvain Paquette
Montréal en paysages by Philippe Poullaouec-Gonidec et Sylvain Paquette

But enough about the outside, as everyone knows, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

But sometimes most of the time it is comforting to know what a book looks like and feels before reading it.

…un premier chapitre dresse un aperçu des principaux défis et enjeux de développement des villes en début de XXIe siècle… Le second chapitre précise, dans un langage simple et concis, les principales définitions, les divers intérêts et les arguments de pertinence qui soutiennent notre démarche… Le troisième chapitre évoque la diversité des charactères et des particularités qui marquent les paysages et les cadres de vie montréalais. Le quatrième chapitre cherche a rendre compte et a illustrer concrètement la nature des multiples enjeux et valeurs associes aux territoires urbains a partir d’une perspective sociale et culturelle. Le cinquième chapitre constitue le coeur de l’ouvrage. Il décrit de manière détaillée et a l’aide de nombreux exemples les différentes étapes du processus de gestions des paysages propose. Enfin, le dernier chapitre illustre un série de possibilités d’actions paysagères susceptibles de répondre aux enjeux déclares sur le territoire montréalais.

Fortunately, Like any good academic tome, they do state quite clearly at the beginning (in this case page 15) what they plan on doing.

For the blokes in the house, a translation via Google:

… a first chapter provides an overview of the key challenges and issues of urban development in the early twenty-first century … The second chapter outlines, in simple and concise, the main definitions, the various interests and relevant arguments that support our approach … The third chapter discusses the variety of characters and characteristics that mark the landscapes and places to live in Montreal. The fourth chapter seeks to realize in practice and illustrate the nature of the multiple issues and values ??associated with urban areas starting from a social and cultural perspective. The fifth chapter is the heart of the book. It describes in detail and with numerous examples the various stages of landscape management offers. The final chapter illustrates a series of possible actions that address the landscape issues stated in the Montreal area.

From the top it all sounds hunky-dory. But then things slowly start to go to hell in a hand-basket. On page 33, they state that Montreal is the “2e ville froncophone du monde.” Or in the language of the Queen the second largest French speaking city in the world. Now I’m never quite certain what to do with books that have egregious errors in them. or at least mistakes that are large enough for me to catch. On one hand I can take the side that “they were busy,” “the fact-checker was sick that day,” or “oops! It was a typo” and gloss over it. Or I can think that “ok, there’s this glaring error, so how many other less obvious mistakes are there, that I am not catching?” And this one left me torn. Montreal hasn’t been the 2nd largest French speaking city since the 1970s.

There’s this city called Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which just so happens to have a population of more than 10 million people, which is just a little bit more than the 3 million plus that live in and around Montreal. Granted it’s presented in a table which might have just been copied from someplace else (oops! In that case it’s plagiarism) which can mean that the information in it isn’t the most important.

But then I came across some other small mistakes, errors or glitches in other places in the book, such as their examples of types of landscapes on pages 93 to 97 which if they had chosen different photographs would have changed the perspective 180 degrees.

For example they say that Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension is a dense place and illustrate their point with a picture of some duplexes. But if they had used this picture
Une ruelle de Villeray
Or a picture taken in Parc-du-Boise-de-Saint-Sulpice they would have been able to prove the exact opposite.

Or their point that Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles is unconcentrated. But if they had chosen to use this picture
tours d'habitation Gouin est 090323
It looks even denser than some parts of the downtown core.

Or the picture on pages 160 and 162 which is labelled as being from souvenir shop in Old Montreal but in fact is taken in this store at 3445 Saint Laurent.

When there are footnotes and a bibliography, things like this make me think that someone wasn’t doing their homework. Not that I’m saying anything, just saying, you know?

By the pivotal fifth chapter, where they pretty much pull out every darn method of analyzing (or what seems like every darn method of analyzing) a city and its cityscapes my eyes just about rolled completely backwards in my head. Everything seems very tautological, kind of just running around in circles not really saying much.

In theory, this is a great book, using Montreal as an example of how to qualify and quantify what should be considered significant and worthy within the context of a contemporary urban environment, however in practice it gets bogged down by way too much baggage coming from trying to be completely inclusive.

But in practice it’ll serve me much better as a constant reminder that I should run as fast and as far away as possible from any and all academic treatises written in the language of Moliere. Especially since it appears to have increased 100% in value since it was published, someone in France is trying to sell a copy for more than €80!

Obviously, as a caveat, if you happen to be a French academician, your views and mine are likely to differ greatly. While you might miss, or gloss over some of the mistakes, the bibliography looks really sexy and there is a hope that you might actually be able to enjoy it. If you’d like to hear M. Poullaouec-Gonidec and M. Paquette discuss their book, they were interviewed on Radio-Canada back in April and acquit themselves admirably.

Me, I’m going to try to read only murder mysteries from now on…