The Fox at Dawn

Froggyland: September 8 2021
September 7, 2021, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Teaching, Theater Making, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

Sometimes we chase that rabbit right down its hole. We did it today in my second period drama class, my smallest high school class of two students and myself. We went over Cassie’s assignment from last week- “Ripped From the Headlines”- one of several generative writing prompts for our ten minute play project. The assignment was to find three headlines that caught their attention for dramatic possibilities. They were to write about how it might be explored on stage, including the link for reference. Like most of our drama assignments, I give them time to work on them in class and then we share them and talk about them. I offer all sorts of news outlets for them to explore, but they are more than capable of finding their own. We are all inundated with news headlines wherever we go and whatever we do, most of it click bait, designed to make us want to click on it so that we see their particular ads ads and more ads. But I love these juicy headlines, and so do the kids. Florida Man headlines alone could fuel our whole play festival. Well, Cassie found this one on NPR: Welcome to Froggyland, the Croatian Museum that may soon come the US. 

I clicked on it there in class and a rabbit hole opened up that was, and continues to be, irresistible. We were fascinated, delighted, repelled and awestruck all at the same time. It is a museum dedicated to the work of Hungarian taxidermist Ferenc Mere who created it sometime between 1910 and 1920.  Over 500 frogs in 21 dioramas depicting a wide variety of human activities, life in the early 20th century. Beautifully preserved, no incisions, he used a laborious process of removing the insides of the frogs through their mouths and then stuffing them with sawdust and cork. He then posed them in a circus, a schoolroom, a pool hall, an orchestra, a dentist office, on and on and on. Really you can’t take your eyes off them. 

The whole collection was found in a Serbian attic 50 years ago and then sold to the grandmother of the current owner, Ivan Medvesek, whose parents started the museum years ago first as a traveling exhibit. Now it’s in a building outside the walls of an ancient palace built for the 4th century Roman Emperor Diocletian in the Baltic resort town of Split in Croatia. Its brochure says “Froggyland and first love will never be forgotten.”

I haven’t stopped thinking about Froggyland all day. I abhor taxidermy, it makes my skin crawl, and yet…and yet- why can’t I stop looking?

I guess it’s because of the questions. How did Ferenc Mere start this? Why frogs? And most importantly to me, I can’t stop wondering about how he accomplished this work in the midst of the Great War. Was it made as a sort of response to the war? That war was the end of a way of life as it was known in Europe, it ushered in the century of violence that followed. Did Ferenc labor on preserving his small world as his larger world was blown to bits?

And I wonder how the collection came to be in a Serbian attic. What journey did it make, how did it survive. Was it stowed there for safe keeping during the Second World War and then forgotten? I am imagining a new homeowner making a shocking discovery as they come into possession of their new home. 

Attendance at the museum has been down during the Pandemic. And the current owner is a little weary of the frogs, a family inheritance he never asked for. He says that he is selling it to US investors. I find myself hoping it might go on display somewhere nearby.

It is a morbid fascination I admit, but look at the artistry! The skill! The humor!  And it doesn’t hurt that I have my own love of frogs, though I prefer them alive or fictional. There are quite a lot of them in the middle grade novel I have almost finished writing. And there is the prettiest young frog currently residing in my little fish pond. I spy on her with my binoculars any chance I get. 

Froggyland makes me happy because it makes me wonder. Humans are often terribly disappointing, but then they are also endlessly interesting. In such an horrific time, Ferenc Mere made a harmonious and timeless little world, literally out of death. I want to learn more about him. I want to see his work. And I hope Cassie writes her play.

8.3.19 Something Afoot
August 3, 2019, 12:46 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Writing | Tags: , , , ,

There is strange energy at work, a churning sort of energy. Walking the dogs these past few days, my head has been crowded with old unhappy thoughts of lost love and betrayals, large and small. A male Cooper’s Hawk has been sitting vigil atop the dying ash tree in the lane and yesterday I spoke to him as I set off. “Hello old friend. I see you. I do wish you would leave me one of your feathers.” And early this morning, there it was, laying on the gravel- one of his tail feathers. A few more steps and there was a feather from a Blue Jay, then a small taupe gray feather from a Mourning Dove. Then I saw a neighbor being led down the street in handcuffs, the mustached officer gingerly carried her pretty pink handbag as he held her arm. He was leading her gently and she had a curious little smile on her face as she climbed into the backseat of the cruiser. Then I found more and more feathers, black ones perhaps from crows or grackles or starlings. I picked up fourteen feathers in all, an extravagance of messages and prayers. Evidence of growth, evidence of someone’s demise.

Then at home I saw what I had been suspecting- that a frog has indeed made its home in my little fish pond. I saw it sitting on the rocks by the waterfall, and just now, I saw a second frog there! Two frogs in the pond that has not known any for two years. I have been wishing for frogs, sorry that I’ve not tried bringing in tadpoles these last two years. And here they came all on their own. So now, like the greedy Fisherman’s Wife, I am wishing for all kinds of things. I’m wishing for my daughter’s mental health to improve, wishing for a successful transition to life at college. I’m wishing for my own daily commitment to writing, carving out time and space for it, protecting it from interruption. I’m wishing for success and prosperity. I’m even wishing for new love and friendship to come into my life. Because what the hell. There is something afoot.