VERBANIA, Italy - Italy’s Emma Morano, the world’s oldest living person, marked her 117th birthday Tuesday, blowing out all the candles on her cake.
Beaming at the attention, Morano took in the festivities for her milestone celebration sitting in an armchair in her one-room apartment in the northern town of Verbania, joined by her two elderly nieces, a pair of caregivers and her long-time physician.
She received a greeting from Italy’s president, read by an official, wishing her “serenity and good healthy,” and appeared for a brief live broadcast on state-run television. She happily accepted some gifts, including her favorite cookies, which she ate with some milk.
Then she blew out the candles on her cake - not one for every year, but three numerals to show her age, 117 - and quipped: “I hope I don’t have to cut it!”
To the assembled well-wishers, Morano said, “I am happy to turn 117,” and drew encouragement from her physician, Dr. Carlo Bava.
“Who would have said it?!” the doctor remarked. “When you were young everyone used to say you were weak and sick.”
“Yes, yes,” she responded.
Another party, including a visit from the mayor and another cake, was planned for the afternoon, after a nap.
Morano, who is believed to be the last surviving person in the world born in the 1800s, became the oldest living person in May.
Italy is known for its centenarians - many of whom live on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia - and gerontologists are studying Morano, along with a handful of Italians over 105, to try to figure out their longevity. Bava has credited Morano’s long life to her genetic makeup, “and nothing else.”
One of her sisters lived to be over 100 and another to nearly 100.
“Her longevity is a genetic fact, nothing else,” Bava said. “She is a person who from a young age had a difficult life that would have sapped the energy out of anyone.”
He said Morano’s husband beat her and she lost an infant son to crib death at 6 months. She supported herself working in a factory making jute bags, then in a hotel, working well past retirement age.
“She abandoned the husband in the Fascist era, when women were supposed to be submissive. She was always very decisive,” her doctor said.
Bava, who has known Morano since she was 90, also praised her emotional stability.
“She is always a very serene. The beauty of Emma is that it is normal that she smiles, but also in difficulties, she is very decisive,” he said. “But perhaps this tranquility comes with age, which becomes wisdom. Who knows?”
Last year, Bava said Morano has never had a very balanced diet, relying mostly on animal protein, the occasional banana and grapes in season. Her diet now includes two raw eggs and 100 grams of raw steak a day, which Bava prescribed after she had a bout of anemia some years back. Her nieces also make her apple sauce.
During a visit by the AP in 2014, Morano was in feisty spirits, displaying the sharp wit and fine voice that used to stop men in their tracks.
“I sang in my house, and people on the road stopped to hear me singing. And then they had to run, because they were late and should go to work,” she recalled, before breaking into a round of the 1930s Italian love song “Parlami d’amore Mariu.”
“Ahh, I don’t have my voice anymore,” she lamented.