In France, there is a system called en viager. It is like a private reverse mortgage. In 1965, Jeanne Calment, 90, owned a great apartment in Arles. Her lawyer, André-Francois Raffray, 47, wanted it. He made an agreement to pay Calment 2,500 francs per month for the apartment (about $500 at the time). When Jeanne died, he would legally own it.
When she was 13, Jeanne was in her parents’ shop when Vincent Van Gogh came in. She sold him some colored pencils. “He was dirty. He was badly dressed and disagreeable.” Jeanne married her second cousin, Fernand Calment. They had one child, a daughter who died from pneumonia the day before her 36th birthday. Jeanne’s only grandchild was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was 36, leaving Jeanne Calment with no family at all.
Five years before Raffray made his agreement with Jeanne, he should have gotten an inkling of the future when she took up fencing at 85. Thirty years after he made the agreement, Raffray died of cancer at 77. The day he died, Calment was enjoying a dinner of foie gras, roast duck and chocolate cake. Raffray’s widow had to continue the monthly payments. In the end, the Raffrays paid more than double what the apartment was worth.
Jeanne rode her bike until she was 100. That year, she broke her leg and the nurses and doctors were amazed at how fast the bone healed. When she was 110, she finally left the apartment and went to a nursing home. A hundred years after she met Van Gogh, the 114-year-old Jeanne played herself in a movie called Van Gogh and Me. She finally gave up smoking when she was 117. To celebrate being 121, she recorded a rap song called Mistress of Time.
All her life, Jeanne was healthy and looked much younger than she was, which she attributed to olive oil, both in her food and rubbed into her skin. Her memory was just fine. And maybe it didn’t hurt that she ate two pounds of chocolate each week. So if you live to be 122 years and 165 days old, you will be older than Jeanne Calment. And the oldest person with a proven birth certificate to ever live.