"Everything about him was old except his eyes, and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated."
He could be very well be describing the people of Acciaroli...
You see, Acciaroli is a small village of 2000, yet today 300 of their residents are over 100 years old! If you read Old Man and the Sea, you'll understand how Hemingway is really writing about his own bout with age, and the determination it takes to remain young, alive and vital, never giving up to the fatigue and the failings of your own body--perhaps as the 300 are doing in Acciaroli.
There are scientific researchers are trying to figure out what makes the Centenarians of Acciaroli live longer than people living elsewhere. What are they doing so right? Is it the Mediterranean diet or fish, vegetables and olive oil? Is it the exposure to the healing salt spray of the sea? Is it the many hills they walk in their day to day life? Is it simply the act of living in such a beautiful, stress free place that keeps them young and alive?
First off, I could not find one bit of evidence that Hemingway every visited Acciaroli... except in obviously re-posted hype about the town itself. I did find some references to an "Uncle Antonio" Masarone telling of a bearded man, heavy on the drink, always asking about fishing, and writing all the time--but he places the date of his visit in 1952, the very year the Old Man was published. It was only after reading Old Man and the Sea some years later that Uncle Antonio "recognized" his village and the similarities to its fishing heritage. Is this the way the legend started?
Even though Hemingway wrote the bulk of Old Man and the Sea in the Bahamas in 1951 (according to historians) and chose Cuba as the setting for the story, he did have a love affair with Italy starting during his service as war correspondent for the Great War. He hated Mussolini and vowed never to set foot in Italy again until the tyrant was gone. Keeping his promise, he returned to Italy again in 1948, when he spent time in Venice drinking. It is very possible that he visited Acciaroli in between the time he returned to Italy in '48 and when his novel was published in '52.
Could it be only wishful thinking to be part of such a great novel? Could the town's collective memory be mistaken? ... Hemingway perhaps visited the village in the early part of the 20th century when he left Milan for a last minute tour of Southern Italy. There might very well be truth to this legend that he was inspired by this little town and the apparent vitality of their people. Or the truth might simply be in the memories of a similar, hard drinking man who wrote in a notebook that Uncle Antonio met once in his village early in the 1950s...
Now back to the truth of why there are so many people over 100 years old in Acciaroli...
In the United States, only .02% of our population live to the age expectancy of 78 years old. In Acciaroli, 15% of their population is over 100. Acciaroli Centenarians have very low rates of heart disease and Alzheimer's. Here is a list of their lifestyle choices:
- They favor a Mediterranean diet, with many local dishes containing rosemary.
- The village is a walking village, where people walk to local markets for virtually all their daily needs, unlike Americans who shop at supermarkets once a week or month.
- Fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat and fish are bought fresh rather than frozen.
- People actually cook meals from scratch virtually every day.
- People eat light breakfasts of a sweet bread or pastry and an espresso.
- People go home for lunch, have a hearty meal and then relax for a hour or two before going back to their work.
- Dinners tend to be light.
- People don't drink to excess and tend to drink only with meals or in a casual social setting.
- Fast food is not a welcomed concept and really doesn't exist in the village--the closest fast food restaurant is almost 40 miles away.
- The locals also take long walks and hikes along the many paths through the mountains above their seaside village.
The researchers from UC San Diego say their goal is to find out why this group of 300 is living so long by conducting a full genetic analysis and examining lifestyle behaviors, like diet and exercise. They are collecting blood samples for chemical analysis and DNA testing, along with having residents fill out questionnaires.
The study will also involve testing to study cognitive dysfunction, and protein biomarkers for risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's, kidney disease and cancer. "This project will not only help to unlock some of the secrets of healthy aging, but will build closer ties with researchers across the globe, which will lead to more science and improved clinical care in our aging population," said Salvatore DiSomma, MD, lead Italian investigator and professor of emergency medicine at University of Rome La Sapienza.
Perhaps the reason for their longevity is simply a matter of living La Vita Meravigliosa in La Bel Paese. We can all take lessons from the Acciarolese and live a simpler, richer life and perhaps we'll last a lot longer on this beautiful, blue planet....
Click here to read Italy: Healthiest Country in Europe!