After a very long year, I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to have personal contact — other than on Zoom — with the world outside my COVID-19 safety bubble. This past week I finally found out.
With Santa Barbara County’s recent advance to the less-restrictive red tier under California’s reopening plan, my lunch-hour book club ventured out to Montecito’s Upper Manning Park. The park was deserted so it felt safe enough for us, and the colorful array of blooming spring flowers made us feel welcome.
Not all of our 10 members could make it, but the intimacy of the smaller group suited me just fine. There were no body hugs or kisses, and I brought my own chair and lunch as part of the safety protocol.
Seated in our spread-out circle, it didn’t exactly seem like the first day of kindergarten but it still felt strange. But I was truly overjoyed to see my gal pals after our seemingly interminable quarantine isolation.
Our book club has met monthly for the past decade. Each month, one of us selects a book and becomes the lead facilitator of our discussion.
This time, Ruthy Green chose Ariana Neumann’s memoir, When Time Stopped, which sure sounded appropriate for how we’ve all been feeling. But the thought-provoking book explores the secrets the author discovered about her father after he died in Venezuela.
Neumann learned that 25 of 34 family members had been killed by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. Her father somehow escaped, and traveled to Berlin where he hid in plain sight during World War II.
After the war he immigrated to Venezuela, where he became a successful industrialist. Her father never spoke of his experience, however, and Neumann only unearthed it from a small box of letters and memorabilia he left her.
Gathering with real live bookette buddies was cathartic in more ways than one. Clearly, the desire for most was catching up on the last year and the joy of our reunion.
We mourned lost friends but celebrated upcoming weddings in 2022 and, in my case, the arrival of my new grandson. We also shared how we’ve conquered quarantine. Podcasts seem to be very popular, along with outdoor exercise, streaming Netflix, cooking and art history classes. We all complained of eating too much and recounted vaccination horror stories.
We parted ways after about 90 minutes, but already are looking forward to resuming a schedule that resembles normalcy.
“There was collective optimism for what lies ahead, and great empathy for this past year of confusion and a promise to share the new things,” Alixe Mattingly, this year’s club secretary, wrote in a follow-up email.
It’s my turn to host next but I’ve not yet decided when or where. I have chosen our book, however:
— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.