The implication was that the artist was trying to capture female loneliness on an isolated seashore (or was trying to find an evocative title for a wishy-washy drawing of something that looked like a standing stone), which is fair enough. What puzzled me was that the original German title of the drawing was Der weibliche Robinson am Strande, or 'Female Robinson on the Beach'. How had Robinson in German become Crusoe in English? Or how had our Crusoe become their Robinson? Is it that the Germans can't pronounce Crusoe? Or does it sound too much like Caruso? Or did the translator think that 'Female Robinson on the Beach' would be meaningless, probably quite rightly?
As I wandered round the FruitMarket Gallery speculating on these and other things (being a philistine where modern art is concerned), I came across a small area at the far end serving food and suddenly realised I was hungry. I looked at the blackboard of offerings and was electrified to see listed among the cold dishes 'Frogs' Legs Salad'. This is not the sort of thing that normally electrifies me, so I have to explain that three months ago my wife and I went to France for a short trip with our six-year-old, and we told him in advance that he would have to be prepared for some odd French food.
'Snails and frogs' legs . . .'
He ignored the snails but couldn't wait to eat frogs' legs. When we got to France (we were at Collioure, way down the South-west) we started looking desultorily for frogs' legs on restaurant menus. We saw none. We started looking purposefully. We still saw none. We started looking in shops. No dice.
'You promised me frogs' legs, Daddy,' said my son, which was quite untrue, as I had only warned him against them, but I did feel guilty that we couldn't see any anywhere. I even consulted John P Harris, my guru on things French, on the phone.
'You'll be lucky to find frogs' legs,' he said. 'It's the wrong time of year, and the wrong part of France. In any case, I believe that the production of frogs in France is dying out and that nowadays they have to import most of them deep-frozen from abroad. I think I read somewhere that most of them come from Indonesia these days.'
My son was inconsolable. On our way back to the airport we stopped at a huge supermarket to find out if they had any frogs' legs. I asked an assistant. I got a large shrug. I went back to
the car. My son was bitterly disappointed.
And now, here in Edinburgh, in the tiny snack area of an art gallery showing modern German art, they were casually offering frogs' legs] I debated whether to go and get my son and come back here for lunch, but I settled for ordering them myself and wrapping one set of frogs' legs in a napkin to give to my son later. They were delicious, though my meal was slightly spoilt by the feeling that the staff had noticed me wrapping my sample of frogs' legs in a napkin and were debating in a whisper whether to send for the manager to deal with this madman, or possibly a public health inspector.
'I have a treat for you, Adam,' I said. 'Look] Frogs' legs] We couldn't find them in France and here they are in Edinburgh]'
'Yuk,' he said. 'No thanks.'
It's hard being a perfect parent.
Reader: Is this article about translations, or about frogs' legs? Make up your mind]
Me: Well, translations really. I was just going to ask, why is the French for frogs' legs les cuisses de grenouilles, which means 'frogs' thighs' and not frogs' legs?
Reader: Does it matter?
Me: Yes. It's also inaccurate. When you get a frog's leg to eat, you get the thigh and the shin as well. Look, I've got this sample in my wallet . . . I'll show you . . . don't go . . .