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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsOur Italy - Chapter 5. Health And Longevity
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Our Italy - Chapter 5. Health And Longevity Post by :freebie Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2392

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Our Italy - Chapter 5. Health And Longevity

CHAPTER V. HEALTH AND LONGEVITY

In regard to the effect of climate upon health and longevity, Dr. Remondino quotes old Hufeland that "uniformity in the state of the atmosphere, particularly in regard to heat, cold, gravity, and lightness, contributes in a very considerable degree to the duration of life. Countries, therefore, where great and sudden varieties in the barometer and the thermometer are usual cannot be favorable to longevity. Such countries may be healthy, and many men may become old in them, but they will not attain to a great age, for all rapid variations are so many internal mutations, and these occasion an astonishing consumption both of the forces and the organs." Hufeland thought a marine climate most favorable to longevity. He describes, and perhaps we may say prophesied, a region he had never known, where the conditions and combinations were most favorable to old age, which is epitomized by Dr. Remondino: "where the latitude gives warmth and the sea or ocean tempering winds, where the soil is warm and dry and the sun is also bright and warm, where uninterrupted bright clear weather and a moderate temperature are the rule, where extremes neither of heat nor cold are to be found, where nothing may interfere with the exercise of the aged, and where the actual results and cases of longevity will bear testimony as to the efficacy of all its climatic conditions being favorable to a long and comfortable existence."

(Illustration: MIDWINTER, PASADENA.)

In an unpublished paper Dr. Remondino comments on the extraordinary endurance of animals and men in the California climate, and cites many cases of uncommon longevity in natives. In reading the accounts of early days in California I am struck with the endurance of hardship, exposure, and wounds by the natives and the adventurers, the rancheros, horsemen, herdsmen, the descendants of soldiers and the Indians, their insensibility to fatigue, and their agility and strength. This is ascribed to the climate; and what is true of man is true of the native horse. His only rival in strength, endurance, speed, and intelligence is the Arabian. It was long supposed that this was racial, and that but for the smallness of the size of the native horse, crossing with it would improve the breed of the Eastern and Kentucky racers. But there was reluctance to cross the finely proportioned Eastern horse with his diminutive Western brother. The importation and breeding of thoroughbreds on this coast has led to the discovery that the desirable qualities of the California horse were not racial but climatic. The Eastern horse has been found to improve in size, compactness of muscle, in strength of limb, in wind, with a marked increase in power of endurance. The traveller here notices the fine horses and their excellent condition, and the power and endurance of those that have considerable age. The records made on Eastern race-courses by horses from California breeding farms have already attracted attention. It is also remarked that the Eastern horse is usually improved greatly by a sojourn of a season or two on this coast, and the plan of bringing Eastern race-horses here for the winter is already adopted.

Man, it is asserted by our authority, is as much benefited as the horse by a change to this climate. The new-comer may have certain unpleasant sensations in coming here from different altitudes and conditions, but he will soon be conscious of better being, of increased power in all the functions of life, more natural and recuperative sleep, and an accession of vitality and endurance. Dr. Remondino also testifies that it occasionally happens in this rejuvenation that families which have seemed to have reached their limit at the East are increased after residence here.

The early inhabitants of Southern California, according to the statement of Mr. H. H. Bancroft and other reports, were found to be living in Spartan conditions as to temperance and training, and in a highly moral condition, in consequence of which they had uncommon physical endurance and contempt for luxury. This training in abstinence and hardship, with temperance in diet, combined with the climate to produce the astonishing longevity to be found here. Contrary to the customs of most other tribes of Indians, their aged were the care of the community. Dr. W. A. Winder, of San Diego, is quoted as saying that in a visit to El Cajon Valley some thirty years ago he was taken to a house in which the aged persons were cared for. There were half a dozen who had reached an extreme age. Some were unable to move, their bony frame being seemingly anchylosed. They were old, wrinkled, and blear-eyed; their skin was hanging in leathery folds about their withered limbs; some had hair as white as snow, and had seen some seven-score of years; others, still able to crawl, but so aged as to be unable to stand, went slowly about on their hands and knees, their limbs being attenuated and withered. The organs of special sense had in many nearly lost all activity some generations back. Some had lost the use of their limbs for more than a decade or a generation; but the organs of life and the "great sympathetic" still kept up their automatic functions, not recognizing the fact, and surprisingly indifferent to it, that the rest of the body had ceased to be of any use a generation or more in the past. And it is remarked that "these thoracic and abdominal organs and their physiological action being kept alive and active, as it were, against time, and the silent and unconscious functional activity of the great sympathetic and its ganglia, show a tenacity of the animal tissues to hold on to life that is phenomenal."

(Illustration: A TYPICAL GARDEN, NEAR SANTA ANA.)

I have no space to enter upon the nature of the testimony upon which the age of certain Indians hereafter referred to is based. It is such as to satisfy Dr. Remondino, Dr. Edward Palmer, long connected with the Agricultural Department of the Smithsonian Institution, and Father A. D. Ubach, who has religious charge of the Indians in this region. These Indians were not migratory; they lived within certain limits, and were known to each other. The missions established by the Franciscan friars were built with the assistance of the Indians. The friars have handed down by word of mouth many details in regard to their early missions; others are found in the mission records, such as carefully kept records of family events--births, marriages, and deaths. And there is the testimony of the Indians regarding each other. Father Ubach has known a number who were employed at the building of the mission of San Diego (1769-71), a century before he took charge of this mission. These men had been engaged in carrying timber from the mountains or in making brick, and many of them were living within the last twenty years. There are persons still living at the Indian village of Capitan Grande whose ages he estimates at over one hundred and thirty years. Since the advent of civilization the abstemious habits and Spartan virtues of these Indians have been impaired, and their care for the aged has relaxed.

Dr. Palmer has a photograph (which I have seen) of a squaw whom he estimates to be 126 years old. When he visited her he saw her put six watermelons in a blanket, tie it up, and carry it on her back for two miles. He is familiar with Indian customs and history, and a careful cross-examination convinced him that her information of old customs was not obtained by tradition. She was conversant with tribal habits she had seen practised, such as the cremation of the dead, which the mission fathers had compelled the Indians to relinquish. She had seen the Indians punished by the fathers with floggings for persisting in the practice of cremation.

At the mission of San Tomas, in Lower California, is still living an Indian (a photograph of whom Dr. Remondino shows), bent and wrinkled, whose age is computed at 140 years. Although blind and naked, he is still active, and daily goes down the beach and along the beds of the creeks in search of drift-wood, making it his daily task to gather and carry to camp a fagot of wood.

(Illustration: OLD ADOBE HOUSE, POMONA.)

Another instance I give in Dr. Remondino's words: "Philip Crossthwaite, who has lived here since 1843, has an old man on his ranch who mounts his horse and rides about daily, who was a grown man breaking horses for the mission fathers when Don Antonio Serrano was an infant. Don Antonio I know quite well, having attended him through a serious illness some sixteen years ago. Although now at the advanced age of ninety-three, he is as erect as a pine, and he rides his horse with his usual vigor and grace. He is thin and spare and very tall, and those who knew him fifty years or more remember him as the most skilful horseman in the neighborhood of San Diego. And yet, as fabulous as it may seem, the man who danced this Don Antonio on his knee when he was an infant is not only still alive, but is active enough to mount his horse and canter about the country. Some years ago I attended an elderly gentleman, since dead, who knew this man as a full-grown man when he and Don Serrano were play-children together. From a conversation with Father Ubach I learned that the man's age is perfectly authenticated to be beyond one hundred and eighteen years."

In the many instances given of extreme old age in this region the habits of these Indians have been those of strict temperance and abstemiousness, and their long life in an equable climate is due to extreme simplicity of diet. In many cases of extreme age the diet has consisted simply of acorns, flour, and water. It is asserted that the climate itself induces temperance in drink and abstemiousness in diet. In his estimate of the climate as a factor of longevity, Dr. Remondino says that it is only necessary to look at the causes of death, and the ages most subject to attack, to understand that the less of these causes that are present the greater are the chances of man to reach great age. "Add to these reflections that you run no gantlet of diseases to undermine or deteriorate the organism; that in this climate childhood finds an escape from those diseases which are the terror of mothers, and against which physicians are helpless, as we have here none of those affections of the first three years of life so prevalent during the summer months in the East and the rest of the United States. Then, again, the chance of gastric or intestinal disease is almost incredibly small. This immunity extends through every age of life. Hepatic and kindred diseases are unknown; of lung affections there is no land that can boast of like exemption. Be it the equability of the temperature or the aseptic condition of the atmosphere, the free sweep of winds or the absence of disease germs, or what else it may be ascribed to, one thing is certain, that there is no pneumonia, bronchitis, or pleurisy lying in wait for either the infant or the aged."

(Illustration: FAN-PALM, FERNANDO ST. LOS ANGELES.)

The importance of this subject must excuse the space I have given to it. It is evident from this testimony that here are climatic conditions novel and worthy of the most patient scientific investigation. Their effect upon hereditary tendencies and upon persons coming here with hereditary diseases will be studied. Three years ago there was in some localities a visitation of small-pox imported from Mexico. At that time there were cases of pneumonia. Whether these were incident to carelessness in vaccination, or were caused by local unsanitary conditions, I do not know. It is not to be expected that unsanitary conditions will not produce disease here as elsewhere. It cannot be too strongly insisted that this is a climate that the new-comer must get used to, and that he cannot safely neglect the ordinary precautions. The difference between shade and sun is strikingly marked, and he must not be deceived into imprudence by the prevailing sunshine or the general equability.

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