05 December 2011

Lifestyle and Longevity: Tradition and Timelessness

Submitted by Carole:
     I am a person proud to trace my maternal heritage to the adjoining villages of Torre le Nocelle and Montemiletto, Avellino and in recent years have been following up on many immigrants from these villages who settled in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts.
     After recording perhaps a hundred obituaries for Campanesi and their descendants who located in this area, it became apparent to me that MANY of them were blessed with exceptionally long lives, even after they came here.
     One day, at my local library, a book prominently displayed caught my eye. Immediately, I wondered “is that place anywhere near where my people came from? It turns out that while in another Province, it is very close to the land where many of our forebears made their homes.
     This remarkable book is called: A Year in the Village of Eternity by Tracey Lawson (2011, Bloomsbury USA, NY). Sub-titled A Lifestyle of Longevity in Campodimele, Italy, this is a memoir, cultural history, cookbook and all-around fascinating account of the author's lengthy visit to a place where the average lifespan for both men and women is currently 95 years. The Italian average, it is reported, is 77.5 for men and 83.5 for women, so clearly there's something unusual going on here.
     Indeed, the World Health Organization has investigated this remarkable locale, where scientists have found unusually low blood pressure and cholesterol levels across several generations.
     Located in the Province of Latina in the Lazio region, midway between Rome and Naples on the Tyrrhenian Sea, the commune's name derives from campus mellis, or field of honey. This, the author says, “is the region which cultivated the bees that brought honey to the tables of the Roman Empire.”
     But it's the tables of today that fascinate this writer: her premise is that local residents live well and long due to their diet and lifestyle habits. “In Campodimele,” she writes, “the seasons and the bounty of the land dictate the food on the table, and each month brings its own traditions of harvesting and foraging, cooking and preserving.”
     The emphasis is on food locally grown with no chemicals, harvested at the peak of perfection, simply prepared and eaten fresh. Food preservation, an important feature in the year-long cycle, is done in the most natural of ways possible.
      The villagers welcomed the author into their midst, sharing recipes handed down from generation to generation; more than 100 are recounted (with some small modern adaptations) in pages illustrated with gorgeous color photographs of food, communal gathering and preparation, local vistas and people in their 70s and 80s living vital, active lives.
     The chapters are divided into twelve months, each focusing on seasonal bounty and traditional (and often multi-generational) means of cooking and preserving.
In these pages, it seems “one can learn secrets not only of living longer, but of living every moment to the fullest.”


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