The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Corona Chronicles

Marie Benoît Thursday, 2 April 2020, 11:09 Last update: about 3 months ago

Corona Chronicles

Like all Oldies I have been mostly hibernating. Children and grandchildren to be enjoyed only on What's App. No hugging and kissing. How sad is that? We are very much a hugging and kissing family.

Who would have thought our lives would change so suddenly and to this extent? But I've dealt with sudden and brutal changes in the past so I remain calm in these circumstances, always keeping in mind that there are those who are infinitely worse off than myself.

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I have almost given up checking on videos and advice sent via every way possibIe, mostly social media. One of them says that all this has already been predicted by Nostradamus. Nostradamus can be interpreted in a million ways and I am not into crystal balls.

One thing is obvious: I see that everyone is keen to remain alive and in this world and no one seems to be in too much haste to discover Heaven and its community of saints.

The big question remains: How long is this virus going to last? .

I wish to document how impressed I am with the Prime Minister, The Minister of Health and Prof. Charmaine Gauci. "Charmaine is on," we message to one another. It's like an episode of Dallas, only it isn't. Far from it. There are also members of the cabinet, doctors and other health workers who are risking their lives every moment of the day. When it comes to Minister Fearne and Prof. Charmaine Gauci, they are serious, accurate and knowledgeable and inspire us with confidence at every briefing.

 Nothing is more disheartening than seeing every measure the government takes criticised on Facebook or by some random blogger and the Opposition.

I have barely socialised in the last couple of weeks unless you count having tea with my sisters and going to Busy Bee for my Zeppoli and figolla, twice, as social events. The social round exists no more.  I am enjoying a quiet time catching up with my reading, tidying up a drawer or two and listening to music. Alas, too much eating is going on.

This is certainly not the first pandemic and will not be the last. Over the centuries there have been several although the one most quoted is the Spanish 'flu of 1918 which claimed so many lives.

However let us go back as far as 430 BC and the Plague in Athens. This has not been identified with any known disease. It had some of the symptoms of typhus fever.
I quote Thucydides, considered to be the greatest of Greek historians and a general. My source is a book I love, The Faber Book of Reportage, edited by John Carey and published by Faber & Faber in 1987, the year my husband died. Everything for me is measured by that date.

So, to quote Thucydides: "The disease began, it is said, in Ethiopia beyond Egypt, and then descended into Egypt and Libya and spread over the greater part of the King's territory. Then it suddenly fell upon the city of Athens, and attacked first the inhabitants of the Peiraeus... I shall describe its actual course, explaining the symptoms, from the study of which a person should be best able, having knowledge of it beforehand, to recognise it if it should break out again. For I had the disease myself and saw others sick of it.

That year, as was agreed by all, happened to be unusually free from disease so far as regards the other maladies; but if anyone was already ill of any disease all terminated in this. In other cases from no obvious cause, but suddenly and while in good health, men were seized first with intense heat of the head, and redness and inflammation of the eyes, and the parts inside the mouth, both the throat and the tongue, immediately became blood-red and exhaled an unnatural and fetid breath. In the next stage sneezing and hoarseness came on, and in a short time the disorder descended to the chest, attended by severe coughing. And when it settled in the stomach, that was upset, and vomits of bile of every kind named by physicians ensued, these also attended by great distress; and in most by cases ineffectual retching followed producing violent convulsions, which sometimes abated directly, sometimes not until long afterwards. Externally, the body was not so very warm to the touch, it was not pale, but reddish, livid, and breaking out in small blisters and ulcers. But internally it was consumed by such a heat that the patients could not bear to have on them the lightest coverings or linen sheets, but wanted to be quite uncovered an would have liked best to throw themselves into cold water - indeed many of those who were not looked after did throw themselves into cisterns and it was all the same whether they drank much or little.

They were also beset by restlessness and sleeplessness which never abated. And the body was not wasted while the disease was at its height, but resisted surprisingly the ravages of the disease, so that when the patients died, as most of them did on the seventh or nineth day from the internal heat, they still had some strength left; or if they passed the crisis, the disease went down into the bowels, producing there a violent ulceration, and at the same time an acute diarrhoea set in, so that in this later stage most of them perished through weakness caused by it....

* * *

And the most dreadful thing about the whole malady was not only the despondency of the victims when they once became aware that they were sick, for their minds straightaway yielded to despair and they gave themselves up for lost instead of resisting, but also the fact that they became infected by nursing one another and died like sheep...

The Temple, too, in which they had quartered themselves were full of the corpses of those who had died in them; for the calamity which weighed upon them was so overpowering that men, not knowing what was to become of them became careless of all law, sacred as well as profane. And the customs which they had hitherto observed regarding burial were all thrown into confusion, and they buried their dead each one as he could. And many resorted to shameless modes of burial because so many of their households had already died that they lacked the proper funeral materials. Resorting to other people's pyres, some, anticipating those who had raised them, would put on their own dead and kindle the fire; others would throw the body they were carrying upon one which was already burning and go away."

Medicine has come a long way since then. Just think how much better off we are!

Which of us wasn't moved by what is happening in Bergamo in particular?

The musician Jonathan Sorrell sent me a poem his talented wife Miriam wrote inspired and moved by the sadness of it all. She also translated it into Italian. Unfortunately there is no space to produce the Italian translation. Here is the English version:

BERGAMO ITALY

 

I saw the many trucks loaded with coffins

Crematory ovens working around the clock

I sit here at home and weep as the snake's

trail is endless, no mass for the deceased to attend lest

the world gets infected

This injustice it burns my soul

With grief, and I am humbled

Scared and overwhelmed

I feel a sense of shame and guilt

At the thought of nursing my own

Fears, my own thoughts

Running havoc, flying

In the darkness of those

Empty Streets, there, in 

Bergamo where the 

Souls gathered

In their innocence

In the grief of 

their loved ones

Never to be seen or heard of again

Never their faces to touch

Their voices to hear

Their shadows to wonder

Their minds to think

Never again, oh farewell

And may your souls

Be blessed with

Everlasting Love

From Your loved 

Ones who remain

In this purgatory

This planet abused

Please know

In our hearts

You will collectively

Never be

FORGOTTEN.

Miriam Sorrell

If I am still alive, we'll meet again next week.


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