The Art of Wrapping Oneself

…as he watched Joachim get ready for his rest cure, slipping into his tuniclike house jacket, putting an old overcoat on over that, and then taking the nightstand lamp and his Russian grammar with him out to the balcony, where he turned on the lamp, stuck his thermometer in his mouth, sat down, and began to wrap himself with amazing dexterity in two large camel-hair blankets that lay spread over the chair. Hans Castorp watched in frank admiration of how deftly he performed the task of throwing one blanket over the other – first the left side, flung lengthwise all the way up to under his armpit, then the bottom tucked over his feet, and then the right side, so that it finally build a smooth, regular package, with only head, shoulders, and arms sticking out.

“You do that very well,” Hans Castorp said.

“It’s a matter of practice,” Joachim responded, holding the thermometer firmly between his teeth as he spoke. “You’ll learn how, too. We’ll definitely have to find a couple of blankets for you tomorrow. You’ll be able to use them down below again, too. And they’re an absolute necessity up here, especially since you don’t have a fur-lined sleeping bag.”

When they came back up from their meal, the package of blankets was lying on a chair in Hans Castorp’s room, and he made use of them that day for the first time. Joachim, as the expert, gave him lessons in the art of wrapping oneself the way they all did it up here, something every novice had to learn right off. You spread the blankets, first one, then the other, over the frame of the lounge chair, but so that a long piece was left dangling to the floor at the foot. Then you sat down and began to wrap the top one around, first flinging it lengthwise all the way up to under the armpit, then tucking the bottom up over the feet – and for that you had to sit up, bend forward, and grab the fold with both hands – and finally tugging the other side over, making sure that the double foot-tuck fit tight against both sides to form the smoothest and most regular package possible. And then you followed the same procedure with the second blanket – but it was more difficult to handle, and as a bungling beginner Hans Castorp groaned quite a bit while he bent forward and reached out to practice the moves as he was taught them. Only very few veterans, Joachim said, were able to fling both blankets around them at once in three deft motions, but that was a rare and coveted skill, which demanded not only years of practice, but also a natural predisposition. And Hans Castorp had to laugh at that word as he leaned back with aching muscles.

Joachim did not understand what was so funny and gazed at him uncertainly, but then joined in the laughter. “So then,” he said – as Hans Castorp, exhausted from all these gymnastics, lay there a solid, unbroken cylinder, the pliant roll tucked behind his neck – “it could be five below now it wouldn’t matter.” And then he ducked behind the glass partition to wrap himself up as well.

Hans Castorp doubted what he had said about five below, because he was definitely freezing, and he kept shivering as he gazed through the wooden arches into the damp, trickling drizzle out there, which seemed to threaten to turn to snow again at any moment. How strange, too, that despite the wet, his cheeks still felt so hot and dry, as if he were sitting in an overheated room. And he felt absurdly frazzled from the practice session with his blankets – ….

Hans Castorp had not been up here for two weeks, but it seemed much longer to him, and the Berghof’s daily schedule, which Joachim observed so dutifully, had begun to take on the stamp of sacred, axiomatic inviolability in his eyes as well, so that when viewed from up here, life in the flatlands below seemed strange and perverse. He had already gained great proficiency in manipulating his two blankets to form a smooth, regular package, turning himself into a veritable mummy for his cold-weather rest cures. It would not be long before he would be as skilled as Joachim in the art of wrapping them around himself in the prescribed fashion, and the thought that no one in the plains down there knew anything about the rules of the art seemed almost amazing.

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, 103, 120, 174-5.