So the oldest person still living in the world is Italian. Yesterday in her home town in Piedmonte northern Italy, Emma Morano celebrated her 117th birthday, no mean feat, huge congratulations to her! I am half her age, and on Monday having attended a funeral of a very dear and special neighbour who died at 74, I thought my life was waning, so many funerals have I attended in recent months, I put my name on the list of the next generation of funerals. Baldino was one of those very few men that one meets in one’s life. Born in the valley, a man who was always the first to help, there to offer advice and support and, he in particular was ever smiling and had that delightful phrase in dialect that always summed up so perfectly the situation and plan of action that the twinkle in his eye radiated.
We got to know each other well fighting on the common cause of the road. He had that scourge of modern life, cancer, a battle long and bravely fought. On of his last actions before being confined to hospital was to call again the local news reporters and organise a tv report and interview (at which I was one of the interviewed). Sadly Baldino was too unwell to attend. The funeral was huge, I have been to many here in Umbria, but Baldino’s was the largest by a long way, a mark of the respect and affection he was held in by the local community, we are all in shock and deeply saddened.
Over the past one hundred or so years our projected lifespan (in western Europe) has increased exponentially – coming from a matriarchal family of doctors I won’t begin to go into the reasons but we have long gone beyond the three score years and ten, and most of us now expect to reach at minimum eighty years of age. The women in my family for some recent generations all have exceeded that by a ‘wee bit’, so I had until yesterday this mindset, that I have another twenty five or so years left and so much still to do. Subconsciously lists have been made, and theoretical timescales been applied and my next twenty five years, much will be fun – yes, I need lots of that, and stress is to be obliterated, after all stress has been my constant companion and hideous ageing enemy for many recent years. But yesterday I suddenly thought what happens if I live until 117!!
For those of my readers who I have had the pleasure of hosting at my home, Bellaugello Gay Guest House in the beautiful tranquil region of Umbria, Italy will know I have two dogs. Jenny, the cocker spaniel, a ‘gift’ from one of my ex’s and Bobby who joined us here from the rescue almost three years ago. Now next month Jenny celebrates her 15th birthday (old cantankerous and very demanding) and Bobby must be nearing that age, neither young dogs. In February this year Bobby was poisoned by local hunters. In the spring they put down bait to kill foxes that would otherwise kill the birds that they themselves plan to exterminate in the autumn. They are Italy’s version of the NRA. Bobby was really ill and spent three nights at the vet, the poisoning clearly damaged his immune system in that he then got a serious inner ear infection, losing his balance and staggering around as I do when slightly inebriated, and then he had a stroke, from which he recovered very well, the only lasting problem – or so I thought being that like Jenny he is now all but deaf.
But no, all was not that simple and after several days of eating badly I took him, a shivering wreck down to the vet to learn that he has a huge tumour on his spleen. It is real big, and he is now on daily doses of cortisone. Every day we are together is a joy. Since the cortisone he is eating well and has re-found energy, but I know this is a temporary respite. He sleeps a great deal, wakes, eats, minced beef and pasta, and then in the late afternoon asks for a walk so we amble slowly to the curve, his breathing laboured, but stride enthusiastic. We make every day special as it might be his last, life is precious and short.
So if I have another sixty odd years whatever am I going to do to fill those years? It is a huge question,as so many of my ambitions involve me being active and Mrs Morano has not been out of her house for twenty years… I further read Mrs Morano puts down her longevity to a daily diet of three eggs, two raw… now I might be a man who likes swallowing, but two raw eggs daily, no thank you! But do I want to live another sixty years, that is the question…
Oh, dear, hey! I like that punctuation, I had planned not to write anything about politics and world events. As in recent months I have been telling friends with all the turmoil in the world I feel so very lucky to be a simple peasant farmer stuck half way up an Umbrian hillside, here I really feel attached to the land, real values, I just let all the hideousness flow over me, I know that realistically there is nothing I can do to change it, I can only bring tiny bits of light into a ever darkening world. Here I am really fortunate amongst us there is a huge sense of community and caring support, so rarely seen in this ever more hideous world, but even that sentiment has a political bent to it damn it. A former cerebral movement, possibly even when the kernel of a gay guest house was still forming in my brain was that I would be entering a business with a finite lifespan. I well remember in my youth homosexuality not only being frowned upon, but also being illegal. Times moved forward and thanks to the huge efforts of many thousands of gay men who stuck their heads above the parapet and worked for the rights we gay guys enjoy today in many parts of the world, it seemed as if life was to be more tolerant. Despite the huge obstacles of the churches and other religions, same sex relationships have become to be acceptable, and so I thought (naively as it turns out) that gay guys would not always need a specifically dedicated place where they could holiday in company of other gay guys, because the world would accept them as just human beings, but the tide seems to be turning, big business does not want the serfdom to be liberal free thinkers or — forbid it achieve anything like parity of opportunity or income let alone have it trump them. The rigid population control traditionally performed by the churches of past centuries is now replaced by politics, itself the public front for big business and multinational corporations, whose only purpose seems to me to be subjugation and control of the masses, horrifyingly we are way beyond 1984.
I am so utterly disillusioned by the current eruption of radical fascism, that I now realise Bellaugello Gay Guest House is and will be a very important part of life for the gay community. Back to my hillside, I am lucky, my neighbours (they love you guys, you make the valley so handsome) and business colleagues are all very supportive, indeed earlier this year I was invited to be a representative on a consultative tourism forum, and my opinion is frequently sought – flattering but odd really. I feel safe, and know that my guests are safe when they come here, but this is a microcosm, one that we must fight to maintain. It is almost ten years since I arrived in Italy, it seemed the obvious thing to do, buy a ruin and create a haven, looking back I must have been mad, but maybe not, for my guest list is international, some highbrow, some less so, some young, others not, some arrive sad but leave happy, I do not believe the opposite to be true, except those that wish never to leave but cannot remain, many arrive tired and weary, but on departure all refreshed, and many many return, I am so very lucky, and I thank you each and every one for your support, for being part of the expanding Bellaugello network, and for spreading the Bellaugello word. But do I see myself still running Bellaugello in sixty years time, even with a coterie of young fit lads, of course not, I have a list of places to go and people to sniff;-)