My trip to Giovanna Spano’s house began at the Esso station next to the Sarras oil refinery. It’s the second largest oil refinery in Europe, located near a stretch of beautiful Sardinian coastline and owned by Angelo Moratti, who also happens to own the football club Inter Milan. We’re in Sarroch, about 40 kilometers west of the island's capital Cagliari.
The whole place smells lightly of oil. A guy who looks like a more elderly Tom Selleck is waiting for us at the gas station in his Fiat waving at us. The house Giovanna lives in looks like all of the old houses around here. There’s a parking lot and a wall of bushes that hides the refinery behind it. There are two old ambulances, a car with a ladder on top, and a regular car on the parking lot.
The guy who picked us up is called Renato Vargiu. “I’m the oldest grandchild”, he explains. We enter the house through the garden, where Iole Pala, Giovanna's 67-year old daughter welcomes us together with her husband, Marcello Nocioli, an old Robert de Niro kind of guy. We all go into an empty-looking living room to finally meet Giovanna Spano. She was born on April 18th, 1902, in Sarroch, which was a farming/shepherding village back then. That’s why, it's explained, she likes goat milk. Actually, USED to like drinking goat milk, today it just doesn’t taste that good to her any more—she prefers the cow milk these days.
Giovanna is the oldest woman in the Cagliari province, the second oldest in Sardinia and probably one of the oldest in the whole world. Her oldest daughter is 84 and she has 30 grandchildren. Until she turned 96 she used to live on her own, but she was robbed by pretty criminals twice—one time all of her gold was gone (“old gold” whisper the relatives) and the other time all of her money. Such robberies are very unpleasant events for elderly people, which is why the family decided Giovanna shouldn’t live by herself any more.
“Hey, Chicka”, Renato calls, “do some praying for us!” And Giovanna (nickname Chicka) rattles through a rosary. She used to have one with wooden beads, but now she just uses her own knuckles because she’d always drop her old wooden rosary.
Giovanna is also blind. She sits in an old plastic chair and bounces her head in a funny way, sometimes adding a little movement of the arms or legs. The others answer my questions and everyone is having a really good time. No one really knows what’s going on inside Giovanna’s head though.
Here is what a typical day in her life looks like:
-A light breakfast with a cup of white coffee and a cookie.
-At 12 she has a little bit of pasta and a piece of chicken, meat or fish.
-After lunch she takes a nap.
-At 5 she has a plate of fruit.
-A little walk around their garden with daughter Iola.
-In summer she goes to sleep at 9, in winter at 8.
Giovanna doesn’t drink water because it doesn’t taste any good. That’s why she needs an infusion every now and then. Apart from that she doesn’t really take any medication, except for a sage ointment to aid her veins and half a pill of aspirin every day. Until she turned 99 she would also have a glass of wine for lunch and dinner.
While we are there she cries out twice, “Renato, I’m dying!” and everybody laughs. Giovanna fidgets a little bit more than usual and then starts singing an old Sardinian love tune. A lot of the words end with a U. Everybody laughs. Giovanna giggles and then goes back to that bouncing-around-to-drift-into-sleep-state.
Before dozing I ask Giovanna if she has any advice for young people? She mumbles, “Amore.” Great interview, Grandma.
Special thanks to Francesco, Lino and Emanuela Rocca