The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

Marie Benoit's Diary: In the Pandemic

Marie Benoît Sunday, 13 June 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Marquis Nicholas de Piro is a lover of art, creator of poetry not to mention a seeker of micro-history. He is the author of several books some of which entailed much research. Others, of a lighter nature, are replete with his wit and humour and his anecdotes continue to delight his many fans. Thanks to the Pandemic he gave birth to another delightful work. Let him tell you about it.

"Isuggest anything else, I ask those of you who are reading this to ponder on how very strange it is that the pandemic, the Covid situation, has actually become one of the most unforgettable and still unfinished happenings in everybody's life all over the entire world. Had I been a novelist before the event and had I written my 'imaginative' story about what actually has happened, it is likely that my publisher might well have said that I had let my imagination run away with me and that I was being implausibly incredulous in producing something hardly commercial. The strange thing is that he would have been right - at the time.


Looking back on world health, the story was different months ago: we met and held hands in the street, we kissed so many cheeks of people who were only acquaintances, we entertained at home, in restaurants; we packed churches, cinemas and theatres. We filled aeroplanes and hotels on our travels and then, one day, it was all gone. France, the U.K., yes, Europe, the Americas, Oh dear, all of China, India (horrific stories) and more everywhere. Doctors and Prime Ministers told us to stay at home. Well, I suppose if the virus is everywhere, then there is no point in describing it any further.

What I am happy to share is the effect all this had on both my family and myself. I feel sure there must be so many other perhaps similar stories in different families all over the place. Of course with such a variety of personalities around us, some, indeed many, being downcast, and others one hears of, finding themselves in a new haven reacting variously. I am now on the threshold of my 80th birthday. My wife is six years younger and my four children are all grown up.

Casa Rocca Piccola my family home in Valletta had to close down and there were no more conducted tours. I found myself with much more time on my hands and mostly housebound, except for the rare occasions when I wore a mask and visited the chemist a few hundred yards away or went for a short walk when everything looked quiet. My wife read lots of books and focused on new gastronomic exercises which I enjoyed savouring for months until Lent came and I was determined to give thanks for our survival, and also try to lose some weight; this included a diet and no alcohol for forty-six days!

I tried to tidy up my study, and while putting together and organising new box-files I collected and re-wrote some stories and even was able to join Sarah de Nordwall's poetry group on Zoom. This is how the birth of my most recent book which I called 'Melita Darling' was encouraged. Partly from the Casa Rocca Piccola archives I discovered some facts and wrote three short stories which are true and seem to be most unlikely. I faced new disciplines.  My lecturer made me write a new poem within a time limit of forty minutes with certain words which had to be included and sent immediately to her. I did this. One week later I was to send her any improvements I may have made over the period. Finally I got her comments and she stimulated my ability to make improvements.

'Melita Darling' started being embellished with some period fiction and before not too long was ready for publication with a mixture of over 50 stories and poems.  I do not think I would have been able to assemble the collection without the 'aid' of the Coronavirus which kept me at it. I would not be surprised to hear that many artists produced more in their studios than they would otherwise have done had they had all the other distractions of a normal life during the still threatening period.

When I had my first jab my doctor told me what he felt I had to hear in no uncertain terms: he said that because of my age I was very susceptible and he would not be responsible if I went out of the house even with a mask on. In truth, on the whole, I did obey with very few exceptions. With telephone and Internet and Zoom I could achieve so much by just sitting at my desk. I decided to write a poem in Maltese and learned to improve my spelling with the help of a not-busy-at-all guide whose temporary redundancy allowed her the time to help improve my Maltese spelling. The result was a nostalgic poem called 'L-Istorija taz-Zalzett Malti' which I do not have the courage to reproduce.

Instead, here is a sample of something more recent.



Does one entertain in Heaven?
Does one choose one's best friends there?
Are we happy every moment?
Do we know this loud and clear?

I do fear being rewarded
I have not done very much
I have prayed for faith and need it
I have mostly stayed in touch

I've indulged myself I know this
Made some sacrifices too
Said my prayers in the evening
Dodged for Lent my special brew

Do I think I deserve rapture?
Have I earned eternal bliss?
He who made me knows me surely
Can I understand all this?

I suppose I'm educated
I presume I've read the book
As my time looms so much closer
I should have another look.

Next week: Maurice O´Scanaill

Editorial Note: If you wish to contribute your own Covid diary please email [email protected]


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