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How Long Can We Live?

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In 1990, not long after Jean-Marie Robine and Michel Allard began conducting a nationwide study of French centenarians, one of their software programs spat out an error message. An individual in the study was marked as 115 years old, a number outside the program’s range of acceptable age values. They called their collaborators in Arles, where the subject lived, and asked them to double-check the information they had provided, recalls Allard, who was then the director of the IPSEN Foundation, a nonprofit research organization. Perhaps they made a mistake when transcribing her birth date? Maybe this Jeanne Calment was actually born in 1885, not 1875? No, the collaborators said. We’ve seen her birth certificate. The data is correct.

Calment was already well known in her hometown. Over the next few years, as rumors of her longevity spread, she became a celebrity. Her birthdays, which had been local holidays for a while, inspired national and, eventually, international news stories. Journalists, doctors, and scientists began crowding her nursing home room, eager to meet la doyenne de l’humanité. Everyone wanted to know her story.

Calment lived her entire life in the sunburned clay-and-cobble city of Arles in the South of France, where she married a second cousin and moved into a spacious apartment above the store he owned. She never needed to work, instead of filling her days with leisurely pursuits: bicycling, painting, roller skating, and hunting. She enjoyed a glass of port, a cigarette, and some chocolate nearly every day. In town, she was known for her optimism, good humor, and wit. (“I’ve never had but one wrinkle,” she once said, “and I’m sitting on it.”)

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Photo illustration by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari

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Click the link below for the article:

https://www.nytimes.com

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