I would like to take this opportunity to wish Carmelo Flores Laura a belated happy birthday. It was a couple of months ago, and I’m really sorry I missed it, because it’s possible the cake, if there was one, was visible from space.
You see, Mr. Flores was born well before the turn of the century. The 20th Century. According to his Baptism certificate, he was born on July 16, 1890.
That would make him the oldest non-Biblical human being ever. Also a Cancer.
According to the Huffington Post, the 123-year-old herder lives about 13,000 feet above sea level in the mountains of Bolivia. He speaks only the local tongue, Aymara, which means he cannot get a copy of 50 Shades of Gray in his language, which is just as well, because he can’t read or write. Oh, and he’s completely toothless.
Whenever the news media, or the Huffington Post, for that matter, come across a story about a really old person, they always try to discover “the secret of his longevity.” It’s almost always phrased exactly in that way. First they tell you that the person has enough descendants to populate a small town (in Flores’ case, three children, 40 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren), and then they tell you “the secret to his longevity.” And we’re always so pleased to learn that the person frequently does something that is supposedly bad for us.
The reporter will say, “Yes, 107-year-old Wilma Potters has been smoking a carton of unfiltered Camels a week since she was 16.” or “Here is 110-year-old Nikita Lubuchev who credits his longevity to a quart of homemade vodka each day. In addition, he always swims less than half an hour after eating a heavy meal.”
123-year-old Carmelo, evidently, chews a lot of coco leaf. The HuffPost does not explain how he does this without teeth, but let us assume he has really strong gums.
We all love the irony of someone living a long life while spending that life doing something that’s supposed to kill them. It somehow makes it okay for us to do those things, even though we don’t also do things like eat a gallon of yogurt a day, or spend our lives breathing fresh mountain air while doing fairly strenuous labor, or getting our water from the “snow-capped peak of Illampu,” one of Bolivia’s highest mountains.*
Since you’re chewing your coco leaves while walking through your polluted city on the way to the crowded, germ-infested subway after sitting at a computer all day, they’re really not that good for you.
The secret to Mr. Flores longevity, though, is probably neither the coco leaves nor his water supply. Possibly, it’s that he exists nowhere near civilization. He doesn’t live two hours from the nearest town, he lives two hours from the nearest road.
The guy has lived through the creation of everything from the television, to the Internet, to cheese in spray cans and yet has likely seen none of those things. In fact, while I’m still waiting for FiOS to get wired up in my neighborhood so I can get rid of friggin’ Cablevision, Carmelo’s neighborhood got wired up three years ago…for electricity. Not having a cell phone alone has probably added 10 years to his life.
While the world has changed dramatically for most of humanity, it has always been the same for Carmelo, living in his straw-roofed, dirt-floor hut, hanging out with his donkeys and sheep, tilling the soil with an ox-driven cart, chewing his coca, losing his teeth, gazing at the stars.
For 123 years.
Or maybe it just seems like that long.
Because, my friends, maybe the way to live a really long life is to live a life none of us would want to live.
Also, it helps to have good genes.
See you soon.
*Note to Self: Business idea–bottled water from the snow-capped peak of Illampu. “IllampuRE: Drink It and Live Long Even If You Chew Coca Leaves.”