Froggyland: Adventures in Croatia
Somethingyousaid.com’s Tom Spooner spends some quality time with 507 taxidermy frogs:
The old town in Split is beautiful. It helps that the bluest of skies spreads above it like a giant unblinking Scandinavian eye. And then there’s the feeling of the sun on your face and how it effortlessly strokes that feline component of your soul, smoothing out ruffled, matted and agitated fur.
The ancient Diocletian buildings, the open squares, the beautiful people, the light Mediterranean breeze, the perfectly bitter coffee, the crumbly salty pastries make this world so intoxicatingly removed from your own, that you never want to leave. This place, right now, is worth hours, days, months of your time. To prove this fact, happy, unburdening sighs escape regularly, marking each minute spent whiled away in such a place. So why, just why, would you leave all this behind to explore a collection of 507 taxidermy frogs? Because you are me, that is why.
Froggyland is a museum in Split showcasing the works of Ferenc Mere. Mere spent 10 years of his life between 1910 and 1920 carefully removing the innards of frogs, hooking and pulling up guts through tiny amphibian mouths, stuffing them and then painstakingly arranging them in human situations. It was with an incredible amount of precision, calm and focus that he completed this task.
The young, handsome man at the entrance desk to the museum starts to tell me about Mere and his frogs as soon as I enter on my investigatory mission. He is charming and his eyes twinkle – I just don’t have the heart to tell him that he is wasting his pitch on me. I am not one of those straggling tourists seeking momentary refuge from the unrelenting sun, disinterested in curiosities of this kind. I was sold the moment I realised that there were 507 taxidermy frogs in a building and that I didn’t have to break in to see them. My girlfriend, reclined, basking and blissfully happy elsewhere, was a different prospect.
Luckily, she knows me too well and we pay our entrance fee and enter. Like a museum robot from the future, the young man repeats the same spiel he began on me to both of us, with the same twinkling eyes. He carefully draws the same distinction between eccentricity and madness. He then tells me sternly that photography of the frogs is banned but that I can take one of my favourite frog display. The flirt!
Ferenc Mere was wealthy. He had time. A lot of it. He also had frogs, a lot of them. Big ones, small ones, and slightly smaller still. He didn’t want scars or any unnatural blemishes on their froggy flesh. Any sign of human interference and the illusion would be ruined. He made no incisions, stitched no tiny stitches. He removed all that made them frogs, the stringy stinking mechanics of their existence, through their mouths with sharp metal hooks and a steady hand. He spent hours, days, years preparing them as part of a much greater vision.
There are a total of 21 scenarios on display at Froggyland, each depicting a unique human situation. There is a frog enjoying a wet shave in a barbershop, a park scene with frogs relaxing on the shore of a lake, a frog having a particularly painful tooth extracted at a dentist. The attention to detail is intense, worrying. The more you study each scene, the more you see. There is a classroom scene where a truanting frog is being dragged unceremoniously through the door by his father. At the back of the class, an oversized frog sits, glass eyes purposefully a little too close together – the class dunce.
Quite often the frogs are inebriated, serenading distracted females, dancing, urinating in convenient corners. Through Mere’s frog worlds, you get a genuine sense of what it was like to live in the era and confirmation of the universality of the human condition, across time, geographic location and species.
Better than any history book, each tableaux provides a snapshot of the past. These common frogs become ordinary people doing ordinary things, offering glimpses of the everyday. They reveal the nuances and intricacies of our existence with grace and humour. My favourite is almost definitely the circus. The frog-human pyramid comprised of so many frogs, the strong man with the weight clasped painfully in his jaws.
Froggyland is a treat, providing thirty minutes of wonderment to anyone that turns their back on more obvious pleasures. Don’t take my word for it though, the ubiquitous TripAdvisor is full of glowing and ridiculous reviews. Owestry from the UK is hyperbolic, even declaring, “This is probably the best collection of taxidermied frogs posed as people doing various activities, in the world.” It is hard to argue with that.
If you want to go, Froggyland is located on Kralja Tomislava 5, Split. It is open between 10am and 10pm. Visit the Froggyland website for more information.