On top of the world

Monsterrat (879x600)

In the circus, Sunday night was party night.

We worked anywhere between eight and ten shows from Tuesday to Sunday, but Monday was our day off, so Sunday night we partied.

This photo was taken on the Monday of our last week in Barcelona. My friend Ben and I had always intended to get out to see Montserrat, but our Mondays had filled with other things. This was our last chance, and we almost didn’t go.

I can’t remember where we went on that particular Sunday night (it was definitely NOT the night of the €1 tequila shots, because that was in Vienna), but I do remember we were both hungover on Monday morning. We were slow to get moving and didn’t even get on the train out of town until after 1pm.

It was hot and humid that whole week, almost unbearable inside the tents at work. When we stepped off the cable car near the top of Montserrat, though, the wind made it glorious. The warm air was silk against my skin, and the vast expanse of it felt like freedom.

The main tourist attraction on the mountain was the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. It was closed for renovations when we arrived, though, and the cacophony of various construction tools echoing off the mountain did not inspire any sense of peace or meditation.

We set off instead along the winding path, shaded by the scrubby trees growing from the rock above us, out toward what I remember as the shrine. I can’t find the name of it now, but I think I might be remembering the Santa Cova, the holy grotto where the statue of the Black Virgin of Montserrat was rediscovered.

The shrine, a building of warm ochre rock with a red tiled roof, clung to the mountainside. And inside there were offerings, prayers in physical form – a pair of crutches, a battered motorcycle helmet. I was haunted by the question, was this a hope for recovery or an offering for the dead?

We paid our respects and continued our exploration. It was already late in the day, and we ended up on the second-to-last funicular up to the very top of the mountain (where this photo was taken).

We scrambled up every rock, every hillock we could find. We wanted to get as high up as we could. I felt sure-footed, like a mountain goat. The mountain dropped away in front of me, but I was fearless. All of Spain lay at my feet. Late afternoon, embraced by the heat of the day, intoxicated on the wind, I stood on top of the world.

We had only half an hour before we had to catch the last funicular back down, but it was one of the best half-hours out of all my years travelling with the circus.

(June, 2002)


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