Vittorio Lai, nicknamed Pistol, still drives and hunts wild boar, and tecently became the latest person in Perdasdefogu, (pop.1,765) a remote mountain town on the Italian island of Sardinia that set a world record for longevity, to celebrate his 100th birthday.
He will be joined this week by another sprightly centenarian, Piuccia Lai (no relation), who has no qualms about hopping on a plane to visit her sons in Milan, bringing the total number of over-100s in the town to 10 among a population of 1,765.
Sardinia has been identified as one of five regions in the world that have high concentrations of people who have eclipsed the century milestone. There are 534 people across the island who are 100 or older, or 33.6 for every 100,000 inhabitants.
But Perdasdefogu, a town tucked high up in the rugged mountains of south-eastern Sardinia accessible only by a narrow, winding road, is unique in the sense that the number of centenarians in a town of its size is 16 times the national average.
“The presence of 10 centenarians confirms the exceptional longevity of the inhabitants of Perdasdefogu, and moves the bar even higher,” said Luisa Salaris, a demographics professor at the University of Cagliari.
Perdasdefogu shot to fame in 2012 when the Melis family, made up of nine brothers and sisters, entered the Guinness World Records as the oldest living siblings on Earth, with a combined age at the time of 818.
The town’s longest-surviving citizen to date is Consolata Melis, the eldest of the siblings, who died in 2015, aged 108. Antonio Brundu, who turns 104 in March, is the current oldest resident.
Vittorio Lai earned his nickname after killing his first wild boar at the age of 13. “I took my father’s rifle, the head of the hunting group,” he told the newspaper La Nuova Sardegna in an article written by historian Giacomo Mameli. “In those days, hunting freed the town from hunger.”
The whole town ordinarily comes together to mark a 100th birthday, but owing to coronavirus restrictions, Lai celebrated by treating family and a few friends to lunch. He said he has worked “hundreds” of jobs over the course of his life. “I was a shepherd, a labourer, a warehouse worker and a cook, but without knowing how to cook.” His wife, Maria, is 97. “She wanted to become a nun,” said Lai. “And so I said: ‘OK then, I’ll become a priest or a friar.’”
Piuccia Lai is celebrating her birthday on 21 February in Milan, where she will meet the mayor, Giuseppe Sala. “I’ve lived through hunger and war, during fascism and democracy,” she said, adding that she had voted as a woman for the first time on 2 June 1946, and she had known 10 popes, although she was born just after the death of Benedict XV, meaning she has been alive during eight papacies.
Several scientists have studied Perdasdefogu, with explanations for the town’s longevity ranging from clean air and active lifestyles to a diet containing plenty of fresh vegetables. Lai said he never leaves the table with a full stomach, eats little meat and drinks little coffee.
For Mameli, the key is the town’s sense of community. “It’s close-knit; there are some exceptions, but we all love and look out for each other.” (Angela Giuffrida, Monday, 14 February 2022).
My comment: Accounts of life in some of these peasant communities mirror the accounts of the lifestyles of Epicurus and his followers: physically active, modest and vegetarian.