Today’s Wovember Words is a small excerpt from German writer Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain. It’s been a long time since I read this last, but I still remember the scene where a young Hans Castorp visits his ailing cousin Joachim Ziemssen in the Swiss International Sanatorium Berghof. Hans is initiated in one of the many rituals surrounding the lives of the patients: the way of wrapping oneself up in warm blankets in order to take the air out on the balcony, even in the middle of winter:
The experienced Joachim instructed [Hans Castorp] in the art of wrapping himself up, as practised in the sanatorium; they all did it, and each new-comer had to learn. First the covers were spread, one after the other, over the chair, so that a sizable piece hung down at the foot. Then you sat down and began to put the inner one about you: first lengthwise, on both sides, up to the shoulders, and then from the feet up, stooping over as you sat and grasping the folded-over end, first from one side and then from the other, taking care to fit it neatly into the length, in order to ensure the greatest possible smoothness and evenness. Then you did precisely the same thing with the outer blanket – it was somewhat more difficult to handle, and our neophyte groaned not a little as he stooped and stretched out his arms to practise the grips his cousin showed him. Only a few old hands, Joachim said, could wield both blankets at once, flinging them into position with three self-assured motions. This was a rare and enviable facility, to which belonged not only long years of practice, but a certain knack as well. Hans Castorp had to laugh at this, lying back in his chair with aching muscles; Joachim did not at once see anything funny in what he had said, and looked at him dubiously, but finally laughed too.
‘There,’ he said, when Hans Castorp lay at last limbless and cylindrical in his chair, with the yielding roll at the back of his neck, quite worn out with all these gymnastic exercises; ‘there, nothing can touch you now, not even if we were to have ten below zero.’
picture submitted to the Wovember 2011 gallery by Amy Karasz
With many thanks to the wonderful Meredith from The Ricefield Collective to help me find an English language version of this, as I only own a copy of The Magic Mountain in Dutch.