For a decade after he fled Chile, Ariel Dorfman refused to buy a new mattress. He slept on beds borrowed from friends or picked up from second – hand stores. His refusal wasn’t entirely symbolic – a signal that he would not put down roots elsewhere. And it wasn’t that he could afford one, although there were times when he was so poor he jumped subway turnstiles to avoid paying his fare.
Rather, his decision was the prosaic price of exile.
The item was just too cumbersome for a man shifting around safe houses in Amsterdam, Paris and elsewhere.
” Those who have never suffered the iniquities of exile cannot possibly understand the significance, the gravitas, of a mattress”, he writes in his memoir Feeding on Dreams.
(excerpt from interview by Joyce Morgan, Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum June 9 – 10, 2012)
A mattress is an integral part of life and in this case symbolic of a peripatetic and sometimes dangerous lifestyle.
Mattresses have been a topic of discussion recently in my household. The teenager is complaining that he needs a new one, having become more like Shrek in his silhouette overnight (though fortunately not in his looks!).
I have been saying to my plus one that we should invest in a new sleeping ensemble (including mattress) and hand ours down to said teenager, in part to mark the passing of time spent lying together – 29 years this year. That’s a lot of snores endured from this side of the bed.
And I recently learned that someone I know well has been sleeping on a mattress found on the street. She figured it looked ok and she needed one, so problem solved (a friend helped her get it from street to abode).
At this time of year in this part of the world I think of those who sleep without mattresses, on cardboard and in sleeping bags, their possessions in a tidy pile at their feet. I wish them a speedy Winter and the kindness of others.
An old lady in the doctor’s waiting room is clearing up the children’s toys. A man from Vietnam with an excellent sense of humour makes my coffee.
Two well travelled women are fascinated by my blue biking shorts. I let them in on my secret after parading on the impromptu catwalk/footpath (they are my plus one’s – I ‘borrowed’ them for the day).
They entertain me with stories about sport nazis on the Perisher ski slopes and public pools in Amsterdam and Burma. One of them is wearing polka dot sunglasses.
A neighbour checks up on me to see if I am home sick. My sister is suprised that I am ringing her on a weekday. She shares her experience of eating a A$3 meal in a charity restaurant.
A man is lying across the cycle track. I tell him it is not a good idea. He is from Korea, in his 30s. I notice blood on his cheek and apologise for my quick judgement. I share my water bottle. He says he will be ok – got carried away running (had intended to go for a walk) and slipped.
I berate a woman who is talking to someone on the footpath from her car and holding up traffic.
I drop everything and lie in the sun and then eat 3 mandarins.