Tuesday, April 24, 2007


As we approach the 10th anniversary of the death of Jeanne Calment, it's time to reflect on her life. She was known for making one of the greatest real estate deals of all time. In 1965, at age 90, she agreed to sell her condominium apartment in Arles, France, to a 47 year old lawyer named Francois Raffray, and in return the lawyer agreed to pay her a monthly sum for the remainder of her life--in effect, a reverse mortgage. The value of her apartment was equal to 10 years of payments. Thirty years later, the lawyer Raffray died, leaving his widow to continue the payments, thus paying for the apartment more than 3 times over. Mrs. Calment ultimately died August 4, 1997 at age 122, the oldest well documented person in the world.

One interesting thing about her is that she had bad habits. She smoked cigarettes for over 100 years. The reason she quit smoking (at age 117 except for a few puffs now and then) was not that her doctor said it would kill her, but that she was nearly blind and could not safely liight up, and she was embarrassed to admit that and ask for a light. She also drank 2 glasses of port wine a day.

Her family was prominent in town, and knew many people. At age 14, in 1889, she met artist Vincent Van Gogh in her father's shop. He had come in to buy some paint. Mrs. Calment later described the artist as "dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable". That was the same year that the Eiffel Tower was built. She even attended Victor Hugo's funeral in 1885. She continued to live in Arles, in southern France, for the remainder of her days. Coincidentally, Dianne and I spent the day in Arles in 1996, and looked her up, but we coudn't talk to her because she didn't speak English.

She was still riding her bicycle until age 100, and she lived on her own until age 110 when, after she almost burned down her condo while cooking (or smoking) she moved into a nursing home. She appeared in the film, Vincent and Me, playing herself, when she was 114, making her the oldest actress. Rumors that she dated George Burns were unfounded.

She was able to walk around OK until she fell and needed hip surgery at age 115. She recovered, but was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. However, her mind was alert, she talked a lot, and she received frequent visitors. She ever released a CD in 1996 called "Time's Mistress", featuring her reminiscing to a score of rap and other tunes. She was precedeased by her husband, daughter, grandson, and, of course, her parents.




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