Montréal is such an unphotographable city that the most memorable postcard photo is taken with the city at your back:
Even after two decades, the Olympic Stadium looks like an event rather than a place. Blur the photo a little, and you could be looking at an explosion in the middle distance of an otherwise serene urban landscape. Olympic Games and Expos -- Montréal has had both -- often build structures that are conventional in their very uniqueness. These big events are invigorating ruptures. As sudden surges of money and intention, they can enrich a city's infrastructure, but the thrill of the event can easily lead to eventlike buildings that make the sense of rupture permanent.
It's not bad, necessarily, this sort of visual dissonance, if you're composing for mountaintop views. But as you get closer to the tower through charming cafe-lined streets of this city of details, it becomes even more alien, and somehow even less relevant, even as its shadow looms. If it were any closer to the core of the city, it would be an atrocity.
What of the core, then? There's the usual patch of tall buildings, with some interesting neighborhoods and cultural districts in around them, but somehow it doesn't add up to a picture as the great skylines do. It looks like the skyline of any modernist city in the North American interior, with nothing to attest to this city's unique position in Canadian culture.
No, as the guidebooks tell you, this is a city of details, a city for the flaneur rather the synthesist. Prompted by the abundance of quirkiness, I found that my near-abstract photos seemed to speak about Montréal in particular more than these shots usually do:
And of course, despair being a French invention, Montréal is a place where even abandonment seems composed. My tour ended in Parc Jean Drapeau, a vast island park in the St. Lawrence -- detached from the city and thus nearly empty on a Monday -- where I stumbled on this stadium remnant, barely two decades old and already a fetching ruin.
Though on reflection, this is no less a ruin than the stadium with its flashy leaning tower. Both harkening back, wistfully, while seeming unprepared for the future.