By Alessandra Dee Crespo.
We spoke occasionally on email, or on your Running Commentary in the combox. I sometimes bumped into you in Valletta. You were always very courteous. I was usually tongue-tied. You once laughingly told me that you were not my headmistress, and that I am not in school, while having coffee with you and my mother in that quaint coffee shop in South Street where genteel time stood still.
Well, Daphne, truth be told, it always felt like being in school when I read your columns and your Running Commentary. It was an education the likes of which is not available anywhere on this benighted island of ours that you loved so much and you gave your life for. Many think that your life’s work was unearthing stories and scandals – I think that came as a collateral. You were our Samuel Pepys, the chronicler of our age, the wry commentator of our foibles, the “one-woman wiki leaks”. You veered from the mundane – who could ever forget your enthusiastic defence of ‘ricotta’ over ‘irkotta’ that went on for days?
Or your pet hate of brown shoes worn with a black suit? Or your horror at the “Middle Eastern hair and make-up” that some of our women sport? – to the sublime – the Inner Harbour area social conditions, the international and national political scene – your erudite arguments were the stuff of legend. I still think that your pieces on the Church and her teachings are the best I have read anywhere. You did all this all the while maintaining your superb sense of humour even when writing about the most depressing things, or worse, when going through the harassment that was your daily companion. You are responsible for spraying my coffee on my keyboard many a time when I was caught unawares by a laugh-out-loud funny turn of phrase or a vivid description of something or other.
Above all, you were an aesthete. Beauty in whatever shape or form is what drove you. Your funeral today was a visual and aural feast. We usually mouth platitudes after attending a funeral “It was a beautiful funeral” we say. But yours truly was. The soothing rhythm of the liturgy was punctured by the soaring hymns and by weeping and clapping – the clapping of a grateful, and yes, even a guilty nation.
Sure, we collected money for you when you were slapped with a string of libel suits, we commiserated with you when you were harassed (which was all the time), and we rejoiced with you when your son, Matthew, won the Pulitzer. But we were mostly keyboard warriors hiding behind our noms de plume. We never raised our heads above the parapet. We let you do that all by yourself.
The time of sitting on the fence is over.
We also feel guilty for viewing you many times as the provider of our entertainment, when for you, it was never entertainment, not even when you seemed to write about the most trivial of things. When people lament that you should not have singled out people for scrutiny in their dress sense or life choices, many could not see that you were not really railing against the people in question but because you viewed such lapses in good taste as a manifestation of the rot that has seeped into society and in our public servants.
Because for you, beauty can also be found in mores, in behaviour, and in how we go about our business, our duties, both in private and in public. You held these people as morality tales of our time.
People keep writing that you were a fearless warrior. You must have felt fear. You must have known the risk. You did know it. It crept up to your front door several times. And yet you persisted. You were heroic. A true patriot.
We must let you rest in peace now. We must let you go. It is our turn to feel afraid. To run the risk and do it anyway.
Your work is finished. Ours has just started.
You can finally rest in peace, Daphne.
And thank you.