Calment’s extraordinary longevity proves the trick to long life is a relaxed attitude towards the rulesby Lucinda Smyth / August 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
On Youtube there can be found a video dating from 1994—titled “Jeanne Calment”—which features an elderly woman being interviewed by a journalist. As the video opens we see the journalist leaning in to shout in the old woman’s ear: “You met Van Gogh?” She immediately responds in a loud croaky voice: “Yes.” “When did you meet him?” yells the journalist. The answer is again, immediate, and unapologetically blunt: “I met him at the end of his life,” she says. “At the very end. He was ugly. He was blighted by alcohol.”
Jeanne Calment was a French supercentenarian who didn’t mince her words. In that video she is 119 years old. In another interview from the same year, she responded to a journalist’s joking suggestion that he could “perhaps” interview her again the following year, with the retort: “I don’t see why not. You don’t look so bad.” When she died at age 122 (21 years ago this month) she was the oldest person in recorded history. In fact—she still is. This year marks 30 years since she was first crowned the oldest living person. She lived for nearly another decade—and her record of 122 years has never been surpassed. But even more remarkable than the length of Calment’s life was her attitude towards it, and the lesson this could hold for us today.
Calment was born in Arles, France, in 1875 and died in 1997. Let’s put those dates into perspective. She was born ten years after the American Civil War ended, and ten years before Tolstoy’s War and Peace was first translated into English. She died the year Tony Blair was elected UK prime minister. In her lifetime she witnessed the invention of the light bulb, the telephone, the automobile, the television, the computer, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and three American presidents, both World Wars, both Boer wars, the Jazz Age, Hiroshima, birth control, the United States Black Civil Rights movement and the rise of the internet. That’s scratching the surface. A rendition of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” would constitute a single chapter in Calment’s memoir.
Another way to put those dates into perspective could be to look at her peers, which is partly why the Van Gogh connection is so intriguing. Calment met Vincent Van Gogh when she was 13 years old. Her future husband owned…