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Montreal and the Rue St Catherine East and West

Last month I had the great pleasure of visiting Montreal for a week (followed by spending a weekend next to a pristine lake in wood cabins for the wedding of two of my closest friends.) I was particularly excited to make the trip, not only because it was the first time I’d ventured out of the U.K for seven years, but also because I had the opportunity to explore the city with a group of friends. I wasn’t disappointed with what I found.


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I want to focus this blog on the area around Rue St Catherine East, with some discussion on the apparent polarity between this largely freed up area, and the corresponding balance of high-rise financial and insurance buildings on Rue St Catherine West. And while I had a lot of fun in other areas of the city (including a fantastic night in a quasi-commune in Little Italy of Rue Dante), this is the area I felt needed documenting.

The photos above represent a movement, from left to right, on the back of a restaurant (left) and then the side and back of a bar and venue (right) that face onto Rue St Catherine East. This site greeted me every morning as I walked into the city from the southern end of Rue de Bullion, where I had the pleasure of staying. These murals–huge and hugely detailed in a way my phone camera cannot do justice to–were what really piqued my curiosity about the city. From the airport, I had taken a bus into the centre of the city and was surrounded on all sides by high-rise buildings that ran parallel to Rue St Catherine to the north. But two minutes of walking (out of the five minutes to get to my apartment) I found these. The separation in style and attitude do not accurately capture the sheer proximity of these two styles of ‘city living’. Rue St Catherine had become a place for me to explore.


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Coming back the following day, I cut through this side street that connected the blocks of flats (beautiful examples of well designed, well maintained, and well funded social housing) at the bottom of Rue de Bullion to Rue St Catherine East, which you can see in the picture on the left. I was keen to experience the proximity of these different attitudes towards what city space can, and should, be, and to see how the march of gentrification–which is steadily moving through Montreal–was being acted out on a day to day basis. Throughout my stay there, and my strolls up and down Rue St Catherine, the following greeted me with a flurry of noise and activity:

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This space, above a now closed music venue (which I didn’t manage to get a photo of) stands opposite the restaurants and bars adorned by those intricate, and quite subversive, murals. It appears to be a retorfitting of a building already there, though could easily be a new build, being perched on top of cultural businesses that have been forced into closure. Opposite a bar called Foufounes (that has quickly become an all time favourite) and located at almost the centre point of the whole stretch of Rue St Catherine, this building site–soon to be office spaces–became the epitome of what I felt about Montreal.

Face this building site, with Foufounes at your back, and turn left and you will be moving along Rue St Catherine East. Between five and ten minutes later, you will be greeted with this: Le Village.

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Le Village is the centre of Montreal’s gay district and was, for me, the centre of what I felt about Montreal. In a province where gay marriage was legalised in 2004, and obviously influenced by an urban (and significantly student) population, Le Village throws together gay male saunas, with innumerable restaurants, cafes, and bars, as well as specialist clothing stores promoting transgender and gender fluid clothing lines. All busy, and all existing under these rows and rows of pink balls suspended over the pedestrianised main street as far as the eye can see.

The structural and social permissiveness of Rue St Catherine East, represented through its planning by its pedestrianised roadway, overspill from shops, restaurants, and bars onto the sidewalks, and general continuation of the street art found on the rest of the road, is counterbalanced by the hugely car-inclined Rue St Catherine West. Where St Catherine East remains mostly to a more human scale of architecture (as much as you can in a city full of apartment blocks), St Catherine West dwarfs human attempts to move around it freely. Starting from the plaza out the Musee de Beaux Arts, heading west, the buildings loom over you, turning Rue St Catherine into little more than a traffic sewer, to borrow from Mike Davis. The scales in play here are baffling, not least because when you stand at the interchange between Rue St Catherine West and Avenue McGill College and look north, you can see the mountain the city is named for, peering round huge insurance and banking buildings. (I took photos here, but they appear to have been corrupted).

This sweeping financialisation, that is spreading east along Rue St Catherine (and the parallel Boulevard Rene-Levesque, my route into the city, until you come in sight of the particularly impressive Maison du Ville) is, I feel, symptomatic of what is happening to Montreal. You can see and feel the gentrification of the city as you move through it. Out in places like Little Italy you forget what is happening closer to the centre. Even on St Catherine East you can forget what is happening only twenty minutes further along the road. To me, the character of this city–its apparent independence, its artistic, inclusive, and creative spirit–is being homogenized and whitewashed into a copy of every other major city in the U.K, U.S.A, and Canada. The cleanup is in full force in Montreal, and that is nothing but a shame. In a conversation with the locals in Little Italy about rent prices, they told me how little they pay for such a huge property in a beautiful and vibrant area. My disbelief gave way to a sadness that soon enough, this area (like those in the centre which, while cheap relative to the Cambridge flat I live in now, and especially friend’s places in London) while continually increase until they are priced out. But that, I think, is a conversation for another time.

My trip in Montreal was fantastic, and it was great both personally and academically to be able to explore a city that shows such polarity in such a small area. But the best part was being able to do this for my friends. Look below to see what’s in the pipeline!



I’ve been invited to speak at the Spectral Landscapes: Explorations of the English Eerie event, being held in Oxford at The Old Fire Station on the 24th of October. You can check out the event’s facebook page here and you can book tickets here. My paper is going to be examining Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England (2013) and exploring ideas of the (re)appropriation of space, which is a subject I have been looking at a lot throughout my MA year.

Also, I am standing for election for the ASLE Eexecutive Committee, in the Graduate Liaison position. More on this when I have news!


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‘Places to flourish? Edge Space and the Formative Process’

After a great day at The Alchemical Landscape symposium, I thought I’d upload my paper here in case people felt like giving it a read. This is a relatively new area of work for me–particularly the occultural focus–but it was nice to explore new horizons, as it were. While this area won’t become one of intense focus for me, it will certainly be influencing my thinking for a long time to come!

You can find the paper by clicking here–Places to flourish? Edge Spaces and the Formative Process–and do keep your eyes peeled for a new digital mapping project I will be announcing soon which, like the radio show, will be hosted here on the blog!

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Pushed by the desire to submit something freshly written during my first year of postgraduate study for the writing sample for my PhD applications, this past week and the one coming has been (and will continue to be) filled with reading and work around a few of Allen Ginsberg’s poems, starting with Howl (1955-56), and moving on through Bayonne Entering NYC (1966) and Memory Gardens (1969).

This project initially started around the idea that Drop City and the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood could be seen, and analysed, as sites of encounter, in the Lefebvrian sense, with particular emphasis on the idea of ‘the street’ as the site of this encounter. Reliant on Peter Rabbit’s Drop City (1971) and Hunter S. Thompson’s The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies (1967), I came to realise (after a protracted two days of banging my head against the idea) that I was attempting to impose a study onto something that wasn’t resisting the idea, but simply didn’t contain the grounds for it.

'Drop City' by Peter Rabbit

So, after a bit of thinking, I decided to expand the idea out from just encounter to thinking about some more of Lefebvre’s ideas in relation to ‘the semiology of the city’ (see Writing on Cities, p.114), and began thinking about ‘the utterance…the language…[and] the writing of the city’ (ibid. p.115), in relation to Allen Ginsberg. Despite being one of my favourite poets, I’ve never written on Ginsberg before, and certainly never thought about him as a distinctly ‘urban’ poet, but this project has quickly grown into looking at the city as dialectic, with Ginsberg’s imaginative discourse both helping to and indeed representing the point of synthesis and sublation. While the early draft–though with significant work–will be going off with my U.S applications for PhD as a sample of writing, the piece is intended for one of my MA modules and will follow much the same course as the draft. But this idea has propelled my thinking forwards, and stemmed two ideas for other projects.

First, I am framing Ginsberg’s ‘city’–nominally New York City, but also ‘America’ as a wider concept–as a sacrificial city, and working on an abstract for a Call for Papers put out by the Canadian Review of American Studies special issue, ‘Death in the Cityscape’. That CfP can be found here. Second, and taking the idea of sacrifice in a completely different direction, I am preparing an abstract in response to a CfP by the Cambridge Countercultural Research Group. The one-day symposium is titled The Alchemical Landscape: Counterculture, Occulture, and the Geographic Turn, and will be held at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge on the 23rd of March, 2015. My abstract will be focussed on the parallels between Stonehenge and Manhattanhenge, in light of Ginsberg’s urban concerns. You can find a copy of the CfP at the end of this post.

So a busy few months coming up, with all this alongside the last few episodes of Tripping In Babylon radio show, as well as my election to the position of Librarian and Archivist with University Radio York.

Counterculture, Occulture and the Geographic Turn

Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge
23rd March 2015

An interdisciplinary symposium presented by the Cambridge University
Counterculture Research Group

“If any one book put ley lines on the map, re-enchanted the British
landscape and made Glastonbury the capital of the New Age it was John
Michell’s seminal 1969 tome The View Over Atlantis.” —Bob Rickard,
Fortean Times, 2009.

In an age of vast ecological crisis and a widespread re-calibration of the
arts and humanities towards questions of eco-criticism, an increasing
number of writers, artists and film-makers are re-investing the landscape
with esoteric and mythic imagery. From the revival of ‘Folk Horror’ to the
cross-over between magical and artistic practice, this ‘enchanted’
representation of the rural works as both a link to the past and an
articulation of pressing contemporary concerns.

This special one-day symposium at the University of Cambridge seeks to
explore the creative, aesthetic and political implications of this
‘geographic turn’.

300-word proposals for presentations of up to 20 minutes are invited on any
aspect of this theme.

Possible topics could include but are not limited to:

– John Michell, T.C. Lethbridge, J.A Baker, T.H. White, Helen Macdonald,
Paul Devereux, Andrew Collins, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Alan Moore, Derek
Jarman, Penny Slinger, Arthur Machen, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Dennis
Parry, Sven Berlin, Geraldine Monk, Michael Bracewell, Gary Spencer
Millidge, Alice Oswald, David Pinner, Diana Durham, Charlotte Hussey, Brian
Catling, Janni Howker.

– English Heretic, Ghost Box, Drew Mulholland, Julian Cope, The Outer
Church, Pye Corner Audio, Matt Shaw, The Sinister Insult, Phil Legard, The
Geography Trip, The Wyrding Module, The Haunted Shoreline, The House in the
Woods, Wyrd England Gazetteer, The Soulless Party, A Year in the Country,
Wyrdstone, Scarfolk, The Old Weird Albion, The Sons of T.C. Lethbridge,
Psychic Field Recordings.

– The Stone Tape, Children of the Stones, Quatermass and the Pit, A Field
in England, The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Antichrist, Voodoo
Science Park, Robinson in Ruins, On Vanishing Land, Cobra Mist, The Living
Dead at the Manchester Morgue, The Owl Service, Robin Redbreast, Penda’s

– Mystical, visionary and imaginative landscapes, folklore, hauntology,
alternative nostalgia, psychogeography, speculative archaeology, inner
space, psychedelic pastoralism, the contemporary bucolic.

– The creative potential of magical thinking, Fortean phenomena and
parapsychological practices: crop circles, dowsing, residual haunting,
remote viewing, geomancy.

Proposals can be e-mailed to: thealchemicallandscape@gmail.com

Deadline: 5th January 2015.

Please include a short biographical note with your submission.


Yvonne Salmon FRSA FRGS FRAI
Preceptor, Corpus Christi College
Lecturer, University of Cambridge

James Riley FRSA
Fellow of English
Corpus Christi College
University of Cambridge

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