9/25/14

The Fairy Tale Years (2)

Here’s a legend I’ve heard many times when I was a kid. A regional story that impressed me a lot and might be the reason I’m not into gold, silver, or riches.
I might also be looking for an easy excuse. Yes, I’m bad with money. Procrastinators always are.
Anyway. When you leave Kleindorf, the coalmine's slate pile to your left, the cornfields to your right, the village in your back, you will stumble upon the river Pöls at one moment. Follow it upstream, pass in front of the moated Rennaissance castle, walk on, walk on, and you'll move away from the plain and enter the Pöls valley. It winds up between the mountains toward a more than 1,200 metres high pass.
But you don’t have to climb up that high. Halfway, there’s a brook to the left that comes babbling down from the mountains. Near the brook lies a little market town.
Today, it’s a sleepy, rural settlement with narrow lanes and old but perfectly preserved baroque houses, with rustic farms, verdant meadows, lush pastures, and rustling forests. The archetype of the romantic, clean Austrian village.
In the olden times, the most important silver mine of the whole Habsburg Empire was situated here. The market town was a rich town back then, its population of peasants, merchants, craftsmen, and squires behaving with the natural arrogant pride that comes with wealth.
Every morning, while the rising sun was still hiding behind the mountain peaks, painting them in red and orange and gold, the squires set out on shady paths, clad in ample, white shirts and dark trousers. They climbed up to the entrance of the mine, a carefree song on their lips, holding a black metal lamp in one hand and their tools in the other.
All day long, they’d crouch in the moist, hot, low tunnels and galleries. Their work was tedious and hard; their faces had turned black with soot and dirt when the day's labour was done.
But their efforts were worth it. They extracted so much silver that the Emperor eventually possessed more silver plates, silver spoons, silver cups, silver knives, silver candlesticks, silver helmets, silver combs, and silver toothpicks than anyone else. The local notability started to weave silver threads in their clothes. Even the squires became rich, their white shirts made of the softest, most precious fabrics, their boots always shiny and black, their houses bigger and more comfortable than any miner's house throughout the rest of the Empire.
Such was their wealth that the squires started to think they deserved the riches that destiny had bestowed on them. They started to think they were superior to everyone else.
In those days, the squires had a favourite pastime. They’d often meet in an old, abandoned gallery, enjoy some pints of beer, and bowl. Of course, in the beginning, they had played with wooden cones and wooden bowling balls.
But now, they were rich. Their cones and bowling balls were made of pure silver.
One winter evening, while the wind was howling outside and snow was falling on the mountains and the valley, a poor old woman and her little grandson passed in front of the entrance to the Bowling Gallery. Both were cold and hungry and tired.
When they saw the cosy light spilling out of the tunnel, they stepped in, hoping they’d find a place where to escape the bitter winter’s eve.

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