Emma Morano despite being the oldest woman alive did what many people do to celebrate their birthday : She blew out candles, received gifts and basked in the attention of well-wishers.
But because Ms. Morano turned 117 on Tuesday, making her the oldest person in the world and the only living person who was born in the 19th century, her birthday was not exactly a private affair.
Some of the festivities were broadcast live on the Italian state broadcaster, RAI, on Tuesday morning, following newspaper articles celebrating her age. And journalists, photographers, relatives and researchers crowded into her tiny two-room apartment in Pallanza, a picturesque Italian town on the Piedmont shore of Lake Maggiore.
Birthday greetings came by way of elementary school children who sent poster-size cards; sundry town officials; and President Sergio Mattarella, who wished her “serenity and good health” on behalf of all Italians.
“She’s very, very happy,” said her niece Maria Antonietta Sala, whose mother, Angela — Emma’s sister — died at 102.
Her Secret to Longevity
I read about Ms. Morano two years ago, when she was 115, and she told me she believed that her secret to longevity was eating three raw eggs a day and remaining single.
Ms. Morano has no doubts about how she made it this long: Her elixir for longevity consists of raw eggs, which she has been eating — three per day — since her teens when a doctor recommended them to counter anemia. Assuming she has been true to her word, Ms. Morano would have consumed around 100,000 eggs in her lifetime, give or take a thousand, cholesterol be damned.
She is also convinced that being single for most of her life, after an unhappy marriage that ended in 1938 following the death of an infant son, has kept her kicking. Separation was rare then, and divorce became legal in Italy only in 1970. She said she had plenty of suitors after that, but never chose another partner. “I didn’t want to be dominated by anyone,” she said.
Ms. Morano, who has cut back to two eggs a day, lives a very simple life. She has been homebound for some years, and her diet remains Spartan, if unorthodox: In addition to eggs, she eats bananas and ladyfinger cookies.
Ms. Morano in her home. Her doctor attributed her longevity to the fact that she is cared for by loved ones.
She recently cut meat from her diet, “because she got it into her mind that it could lead to a tumor, so she stopped eating it,” said Ms. Sala, who helps look after her aunt, along with two caregivers.
The Other Secret
Ms. Morano’s doctor of nearly two decades, Carlo Bava, said that despite her age, his patient was still in excellent health, and her memory sharp. “She’s in great form,” he said. “And I think she’s happy to have made it to this birthday.”
Diet aside, Dr. Bava said he thought Ms. Morano had lived such a long life because she was cared for. “The secret is in growing old with people who love you, which is different from growing old and being put up with,” he said.
Assisted-living facilities are fine, and full of good people, he said, but it’s not the same thing as the affection of loved ones. “That’s the secret to a long life,” he said.
On Tuesday, Ms. Morano took it all in good stride. She blew out the candles, posed graciously for countless photographs and accepted cheek kisses galore.
“Then at one point she said, ‘Hey, isn’t there anything to eat here?’ and she ate,” said Dr. Bava, who honored her Tuesday morning.
Then she took a nap.
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