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‘Żółta Kaczka!’ A Story for the New Year

Two decades ago I spent a year in Poland, teaching at the University of Warsaw.

One afternoon I took my three-year-old daughter to an amusement park – a thrown-together bunch of rides that had suddenly appeared at the foot of the Palace of Culture.

I chose one where you sit inside the suspended body of a plastic duck and go around. It must have been sort of like this.

We hadn’t been in Poland long; I spoke little Polish. The woman who took my money seemed to be jabbering some instructions at me.

I settled my very excited daughter (La Kid to you) next to me. Every other duck was taken by another excited kid.

The tumbledown absurdity of the setting – Stalinist icon background; suspended plastic yellow duck foreground – made me silly, buoyant.


The ride starts up – loud music and our duck’s slow gathering of its energy until we’re moving fast and smooth around and around, maybe eight feet from the ground. I’m happy; the kid’s happy. We’re looking around. We’re giggling.

Suddenly there’s screaming and it seems to be directed toward us.

“Żółta kaczka! Żółta kaczka! Żółta kaczka!”

The woman who runs the ride is staring at me, pointing at my duck, yelling. I have no idea what she’s saying, but something’s wrong with my duck and now I’m worried. What is wrong with my duck?

Żółta kaczka. It means yellow duck. She was identifying me, trying to get my attention, trying to tell me something. People on the other ducks were staring.

For the rest of the ride, while my daughter reveled in the breeze and the ground-level views, I worried.


As she helped us out after the ride was over, the woman gestured to me that the yellow duck featured a control column which we were supposed to be using to make our duck fly. Our duck didn’t just graze the earth and go round and round. It flew. It flew up and down at our command. We’d entirely missed that. We’d paid for a duck that flew, and we hadn’t gotten our money’s worth.


But of course we had gotten our money’s worth – the ride as such, the ride as interpreted by happily-distracted-by-child, linguistically retarded UD, was exactly what both of us wanted. A tranquil circling of an odd world. Only someone else’s insistence that there must be more to it disturbed us.

Margaret Soltan, January 5, 2013 12:00PM
Posted in: snapshots from warsaw

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2 Responses to “‘Żółta Kaczka!’ A Story for the New Year”

  1. Bill R Says:


  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Thanks, Bill R.

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