During our early morning departure from Barcelona, my classmates and I were buzzing with nervous anticipation at the task ahead of us: climbing Montserrat Mountain. Some were dreading the physicality of the hike, others relishing in the natural beauty of the landscape, whilst I felt a mix of the two. I am not one to admire nature when I am physically and mentally stressed, so the trees and panoramic views barely kept me from running back down to the base of the mountain to take the cable car instead. An apology is owed to my friends who kept hearing me threaten to take the cable car or call the Red Cross to evacuate me from the climb. There were many occasions that I was discouraged by the seemingly endless ascension of stairways and rocky trails, predominantly because I followed the quickest paced group of hikers. I regret not hiking with my friends in the slower group because I felt very frustrated by my perceived lack of physical fitness and was not able to enjoy the climb in the slightest. In moments like this climb, I am reminded that I am accustomed to comparison and have a harsh mindset that often leads to self-criticism and dissatisfaction.

After an hour drive from Barcelona, we set off to climb the Montserrat Mountain, meaning “serrated edge,” to reach the Montserrat Monastery.

The uneven terrain and steep walkways served as a major physical challenge during the hike, especially with the unrelenting sun beating down on us.

The feeling of exhaustion and relief once I reached the Monastery of Montserrat was indescribable. We barely reached the baptistery of the monastery in time to watch the last minute of the famous Boy’s Choir’s performance. The aura of the room was striking; hundreds of devout travelers from around the world huddled up in the pews and aisles of the baptistery to catch a glimpse of the choir and the Black Madonna. The purity of the music mixed with the ornate interior of the baptistery was unforgettable. The performance concluded with one of the monks describing the appreciation of donations from the travelers to continue the preservation of the choir and church, which have been around since the 14th and 9th centuries respectively. I felt that this request was very justified based on the popularity of the monastery as a site for religious pilgrims and admirers of architecture and nature alike.

The main square of Montserrat Monastery was a sight for sore eyes after a long and sweaty hike through steep forests and rocky paths.

Montserrat is home to one of Europe’s oldest boy’s choirs, the Escolania, which strives to preserve the tradition of religious music through performance.

A woman places a candle in front of a depiction of Our Lady of Montserrat in the Montserrat Monastery.

In Museu de Montserrat, Dionis Baixeras’ Preparant la pesca depicts a girl preparing a basket of fish, portraying everyday tasks for centuries of Catalan people.

The importance of preserving culture through art and music did not culminate in my mind until I spent my free time alone in Museu de Montserrat.  I was disappointed that there were few people enjoying the gallery because the paintings were very impressive, albeit not all created by “famous” artists.  However, I realized that while the paintings of daily life in Catalonia may not be as impressive as works displayed in palaces or major exhibits, they serve as vital snapshots of cultural history.  Paintings of peasants in fields, fisherman working, women knitting, and grapes in harvest are timeless indicators of what life was like at a certain time and place for each culture.  The appreciation of these works, not just the greats from Picasso and Dali, is key in providing a holistic understanding of how cultures have evolved over centuries.  

Cultural preservation lies in the choices of individuals, as does refining one’s mentality in the presence of adversity.  As I become more aware of my restrictive focus on comparison, I can allow myself to redirect my attention towards activities that promote the environment I want to live in.  On this note, my inspiration to research the decline in cooking in Barcelona stems from noting changing cultural experiences over generations and making the choice to further my understanding of others.