When I got the invitation to visit Strasbourg for the naming of the press room of the European Parliament for Daphne Caruana Galizia I jumped at the chance at finally meeting her sons and her husband and personally tell them how I felt about their loss, about their mother and wife and about them.
Of course this was not an occasion designed to make me feel better. It was not about me at all.
But being there, in that large room packed to the rafters when it has almost never even been half full, listening to Peter Caruana Galizia deliver his moving and eloquent tribute to his wife and sitting metres away from Matthew, Andrew and Paul, was for me a closure of a chapter and an opening of a new one.
After a month of frantically trying to catch up with my emotions, I felt, right there in that crowded room in Strasbourg, that once again the example of Daphne’s family demanded action. After shock, grief, loss and anger, that can fuel great feats but are only sustainable for a short period of time, it is now time for a different stage.
Peter Caruana Galizia spoke of his wife’s frustration at just how deep the ugliness of crime had penetrated Malta. But the frustration she felt was by definition borne out of a patriotism that does not prattle, wave flags and thump chests. It is a complete and unconditional love for the soil out of which her garden grew and of the endangered landscape that was the backdrop to all things her aesthetic sensibilities judged beautiful and desirable.
This uncompromising love of beauty made necessary its pursuit. Indifference to its pollution and degradation, whether as a result of environmental blemishes or even the reprehensible actions of the mammonists who worship money above all other gods, is for anyone truly emotionally in touch with the soil from which they grow, a betrayal they cannot live with.
Perhaps this, of all things, is what Daphne’s detractors found, and still find, most impossible to understand and show they don’t when they speak of “her agenda”. In a culture where doing anything for nothing is a waste, it is very difficult for some people to even accept the possibility that her journalism was pure passion. It was not a business. It was not even paid employment. It was an uncompromising expression of passion for country, crafted with skill and precision that could have made her an established novelist or screenwriter. But a passion like hers does not allow you to choose what to write.
Sceptics point out that not all her 20,000 or so blog posts are Pulitzer-worthy. But that is where they miss the point. Her corpus of work is complete precisely because of the extent of her range. Her investigative work is complemented by her sarcasm, her satire, her invective and her broad range of interests. A French journalist I worked with these last few weeks, who had leafed through her work, told me Daphne as she saw her was Liberation, Le Monde and Charlie Hebdo rolled into one.
That ability to nimbly jolt across genres, often in a single day, was not just exceptional for Malta – as her investigative work was – it is exceptional by any standard anywhere.
And her productivity was more of a tide than merely a stream of consciousness. Her writing ebbed and flowed, but never ceased. Sometimes it burst the embankments with powerful and definitive energy. Sometimes it receded into quiet reflection tightening the tensile energy she would inevitably hit back with.
In this she was beyond any proportion for the country she worked in. The small-mindedness of people here who think giants of global journalism who paid tribute to Daphne’s work, spoke about her because Simon Busuttil does not accept the election result, or some of the other drivel we hear, will, in time, be seen for the Lilliputian pettiness it is.
The giants of journalism paused to bow their heads when Daphne died because when they heard of her they went to read her work and found a pen that is not just powerful and informative, courageous and revelatory. They found a pen which is funny and sarcastic, passionate and even tender.
A German journalist I spoke to told me she found her journalism outside of its time even for Germany and Europe. Because in the midst of a wave of fake news, of dubious and hidden hands in the writing of stories, in fake online profiles that troll to frustrate argument and crumble thought, in the midst of the bankruptcy of conventional media and their compromised integrity in exchange for mere survival, Daphne Caruana Galizia was a person.
Sounds vague? Let me clarify. Daphne’s readers knew who was writing. They knew her as a person and her writing was not detached and anonymous, camouflaging comment and bias in misrepresented facts. Her writing struck up an unpretentious conversation with every reader as if she was alone with them in a room. As you read her posts on a bus or at your desk at work or even at a restaurant while your husband tapped the table annoyingly and annoyed, she sat down next to you and told you what had driven her up the wall that day.
That level of conversational engagement is a magical experience that reminds me more of the notes in the margins of medieval chroniclers and enlightened diarists but applied to the internet world of today. Sure there have been bloggers well before her. But in the technique she received, she imbued her massive personality, her sparkling intelligence and her acid wit.
This is why so many people will miss her writings so much for so long. Not just for her capacity and her courage to reveal what others would hide, but also for her intuitive elegance and phrase.
But she leaves us a treasure. Those 20,000 articles she wrote, the better and the worse ones, the more famous and the less so, the long and the short, will stay with us to look back on and read like rediscovered pages of a personal diary we forgot we wrote. The news of last year is old or dead. But Daphne’s commentary on it is truly immortal.
As I write this I’m on the plane back from Strasbourg. I started this piece meaning to criticise Alfred Sant, Miriam Dalli and Marlene Mizzi for pointedly missing the naming ceremony in her honour in the European Parliament building. They locked themselves away not to have to meet Daphne’s husband and her sons. In spite of the platitudes they mouth by rote about how shocked they were by Daphne’s killing, they fear their tearful masks would not hold under the weight of the glare of the unblemished integrity of the surviving Caruana Galizias.
MEPs of all creeds and colours, from inveterate idealist communists to cynical angry separatists and every sensible moderation in between, including of course socialists, stood and applauded in tribute to our Daphne. That was a proud, patriotic moment I will always cherish. I did not mind for a minute wrapping myself in the flag and basking in the radiating glow of Daphne’s great achievement. She wasn’t being honoured because she died, even if in untimely and brutal way. That only attracts pity and perhaps sympathy.
She was being applauded because she had lived to be the writer of our time for others outside our country to admire.
For a moment, I did not mind that so many people in Malta could not read her writing to save their lives. I was too proud to even feel embarrassed that half the Maltese contingent in the European Parliament boycotted the tribute Europe gave to one of our greatest children.
For a moment, she reminded me once more that the frustrations I feel about this country of ours are but a product of my immovable love for the land I call my mother.