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Loneliness during Covid-19/J Luzzi's Virtual Book Club

Due to Covid-19 loneliness, I've joined a virtual book club, which will be given on April 1st by Joseph Luzzi of Bard College who teaches in upstate New York--not upstate as far as I'm concerned (my dad is from Lowville, New York, which is way upstate!) Speaking of my dad, his recent truth has been the end of a 61-year marriage to my mother who died last June, after contracting Covid-19. Although her official death was noted as being from Alzheimer's, her death was rapidly accelerated once she got the virus. Joseph's Luzzi's wife also died, but in a tragic car accident when she was young and pregnant. The baby survived.

I joined this One Day University group that I saw on CNN's morning brief. Once in, you can access a library of lectures. I chose a lecture from Joseph Luzzi about the eight greatest books that changed the world. I love learning! As I grow older I keep wishing I could go back to college--maybe I'd do things differently this time around!

I graduated before Joseph Luzzi did, in 1983 (I'm older!)--early because I had enough credits to do so and my dad was .... well .... cheap. I hope my dad isn't reading this. I am so thankful that my parents did decide to pay for my college education. I was an English major. I met my husband-to-be six months before my graduation--but then I didn't want to accelerate my graduation, but I did so per my father's insistence. Coincidentally, I am still married to this same individual, and happily so. Joseph's first marriage included the devastating tragedy I spoke briefly about above. I can't imagine the pain he's been through. I'm still not over the pain of my mom's death last June. But my husband and my kids are still, thankfully, healthy and near my side. Luzzi's daughter, by the way, is a wonderful pianist now. She's amazing, years younger than my children who are 21 and 24, and so talented musically.

Well, I read the required reading for the book club for April 1st, a dystopian novel that I would never have chosen to read on my own, Klara and the Sun, but which I liked. I usually go for historical fiction or contemporary love stories. Then I read up on the professor and his sad story, which did finally turn positive, and downloaded a few of his published books on my kindle, including In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love.

I found out we had things in common. We both wanted to write fiction from a very young age. We knew the same American places: Westerly, Rhode Island; upstate New York; and the shoreline of Connecticut that is visible from the train; out the window the vast expanse of tufted marshland is an open landscape as it spills away to the blue of Long Island sound. We both knew Red Hook, New York. The artsy village of Rhinebeck, New York (I worked in both of these places). Unfortunately, I have not yet traveled to Italy, but I traveled to London and Paris years ago (Luzzi lived in Paris after his graduation in 1989).

I spent my late college, and younger adult years after college, in Tolland, Connecticut. In 1982, I spent a summer on college break after my military dad (and Mom and brother) returned to the United States from England (we had lived in Iran, Germany and England before he received a new U.S. assignment). My father then worked as a military advisor at Pratt and Whitney in East Hartford, Connecticut. While he and my mother worked, I'd go to the beach in Watch Hill with my Tolland neighbor and my high school brother and we'd have black raspberry ice cream cones in the village (before Taylor Swift lived there) and jump the lively surf at the beach. Watch Hill is near Westerly. More recently, I worked in Providence, Rhode Island from 2010 to 2013 and performed work in the Westerly area. Not to mention the interesting fact that I had read Dante's Inferno in college and I love tennis. Luzzi loves (is besotted with) tennis. He talks at great length about tennis and the Borg/McEnroe match, which I watched while I still lived in England, loving Bjorn's knee drop to the ground when he won ... the quiet, thoughtful Swede versus the loud brash American. And the respectful Swede won. I liked it! I was a fan.

After Wimbledon, I remember picking ripe-red strawberries in the countryside, which we baked into a pie. I was awestruck to be living in England when Lady Diana and Prince Charles were marrying (hoping for the best for them and a romantic fairy tale, hmmmm). We bought our first microwave in England at the base BX. At RAF Upper Heyford, I played tennis almost every day that summer on the base courts, which were just behind my house on Soden Road, across from the ivy-covered Officers Club. Once back stateside, we helped a refugee from Tehran Iran, whom we knew and cared for when we lived there, find his beginnings in the United States. Therefore, we shared the more recent immigrant connection, beyond my being descendants of immigrants from Ukraine, Poland, and Ireland. I'd say we have things in common. :)

I'm so looking forward to his virtual book club. Now I'm reading My Two Italies. I've read the first several pages and I'm in!! Nothing better than reading. Once Covid-19 is harnessed or eradicated (I'm hopeful), I'm traveling to Tuscany! :) I'll invite my son, Connor as a college graduation present (it's so deserved) and other members of my family. I'll invite my dad, who is 83; he used to travel with my mom whom he misses desperately.

In terms of Luzzi's memoir In a Dark Wood, I would say that sometimes I felt his attempts to tie his emotions or realizations to Dante were a stretch. I almost enjoyed more the parts that didn't have literary references to Dante. As a mother, I had trouble understanding Luzzi's way of handling his grief, how he let his own mother do almost everything for his daughter. I admired his mother! I loved his first wife, Katherine! I did not like Astrid one bit or the fact that he was attracted to her before his wife died!! However, it was wonderful that this Astrid person persisted in telling him that his daughter should be front and center in his life--though the way she did it seemed contentious. I'm glad Luzzi finally got to that realization on his own, that his daughter should be front and center. He seemed younger and more self-absorbed than I would have thought from a professor. Sometimes when it comes to a memoir, the story is less critiqued than the person. Maybe he was just being introspective and unable to face the change that his wife's death precipitated. I felt scarily closer to death when my mother passed and as if the world suddenly got unfamiliar. I felt "weird." Despite any perceived personality failings of the author, though, a modest few, I was thoroughly invested in his true story. I highly recommend it.

Good-bye for now! Stay safe. Wear your mask! Please, for just a little bit longer! I'll review My Two Italies next. Ciao.

Sandy Heath


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