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Secrets of Old Age

Cristobol hitches an uphill ride on Guapa’s tail

Vanessa and I spend most days with Cristobol, psychiatrist Alonso’s 87 year-old grandfather. When Alonso works construction on weekdays, this web it is Cristobol who walks with us for half an hour to the almond orchards. On our first day in the orchard Cristobol took a long stick and began whacking the almond trees with it, sending the almonds down to the ground where Vanessa and I picked them up. We crawled around below looking for the almonds, camouflaged in the dry beige grass. I felt guilty that this old man was doing the hard work, but when I offered to take the stick he refused.


Eventually we reached an almond tree that was too tall to reach the top with the stick. Cristobol told me to climb it and shake the almonds down, warning me to be careful not to fall. I was glad to be more helpful: he may have been in great shape for an 87 year-old, but tree climbing was better done by someone younger.


When I finished I climbed out of the tree. As soon as my feet touched the ground I turned around and saw Cristobol hoisting himself up by the arms into another almond tree. I couldn’t believe it. A few days later and I am used to watching this amazing 87 year-old climb trees.
Cristobol in a tree

What’s his secret? There are obviously many factors that have kept him in such good shape for so long. First, Cristobol has that pure strength that comes from a life of physical labor. It is a type of strength that years spent working out at gyms will never give us urbanites. Second, clearly, he has some good luck and good genes. His diet, though, is the most interesting part. For breakfast Cristobol eats a one inch-thick slab of cured pork jowl–pure fat–cut the size of his palm with an equally thick slice of country bread, something he has done for as long as he can remember. The pork comes from a friend who raises Iberian pigs, and perhaps the quality of the meat has something to do with it. Even so, eating that much pork fat every day and being as healthy as Cristobol goes against every bit of nutritional science out there. Maybe he is a freak exception, or maybe we can look at Cristobol as a reminder of the complex relationship between food, its quality, and our lifestyle and their joint effects on our health.

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