Sitting in the original basement of a re-constructed palace from the 1700s in downtown Warsaw which now serves as the Frederic Chopin museum, my new tour guide friend told me a local legend about prosperity and hardship:
The legend of the golden duck.
As my new friend told it:
There once was a young boy living in Warsaw- the son of a shoemaker- who was very poor. His father wanted to use their last piece of gold, but the boy begged his father to keep it because there was so little gold around where they lived they’d never be able to survive once it was gone. Alas, his father spent it anyway and they were broke. As legend had it, a princess from the nearby castle, Ostrogoski, had been turned into a duck and sat in a pond of gold in the dungeons. The young boy thought that he might be able to support his family if he could just get some gold from the pond, so he ventured to the castle and deep into the dark dungeon.
And there it was- a duck sitting in a pond of gold. So, he explained his situation to the duck and asked for some gold. The duck promised him great riches and immediately handed over a pouch full of gold. But this present came with conditions: the young boy needed to spend every piece of gold that very evening and only on himself. If, and only if, he spent all of the money on himself that night, if he came back to the duck the next day she would double the money she had given him.
What joy! He was able to go everywhere he wanted and to buy all that the his heart desired. The next day, excited with his exploits the day before, he went back to the duck who, as promised, gave him double the amount of gold she’d given him the day before. So, off he went again to spend the riches he had obtained without sharing so that he could continue to prosper. As the day was winding down, the boy encountered a beggar, a soldier who was starving to death. He could not just walk past and let him starve so he ended up giving the beggar his last piece of gold. Out of nowhere, the duck appeared and his purchases vanished. The duck cursed him saying that he would have to live in poverty once more.
After the duck had disappeared, the beggar told the boy that he had triumphed over greed with his generous spirit and could easily live a pure life from hard work. And that’s exactly what the boy did. He became an accomplished shoe maker who became known world wide and never had to worry about putting food on his family’s table again.
The pond, my new friend told me, is two levels below where we sat in the deepest part of the cold, musty basement where nothing can be put on display because of the unsuitable climate for historic objects. There is even a fountain that the citizens of Warsaw built in the courtyard outside of the castle with a gold duck to commemorate this encounter. It’s supposed to be placed just atop where the duck was deep below the ground.
I couldn’t help but think to myself, as we sat in this space (so open, with vaulted ceilings, and yet… I felt an eerie weight resting on me) that perhaps this story could be an allegory for the business of coal in Poland. Will the Polish people find a new child willing to give up the wealth associated with coal and through hard work start a new, cleaner energy industry in Poland? Like the story with the golden duck, all it takes is hard work and a strong resistance to greed.
Maybe what we really need to do is find the golden duck while we’re in Warsaw and we could put those gold coins into the Green Climate Fund (GCF).