Persistence defines a cliché. But ‘everything comes to those who wait’, because of its sentiment, will outlive them all. Jose Aguienlo dos Santos was born July 7 1888. He had to wait for only two years to witness slavery be abolished in Brazil. Jose was born in a slave compound. His future was expected to be bleak but here he is, 126 years later, the oldest man on the planet and still smoking a packet of fags a day. The famous of the 20th Century are now mostly dead.
Jose is special, the seventh son born on the seventh day perhaps. Maybe Jose is the man blues singers dreamed of being. Jose did not expect to become the oldest man in the world and watch Brazil be beaten 7-1 by Germany. But Jose may have popped outside for a cigarette and missed it. Brazilians are like Americans. They think their country is exceptional. The serious know the problems that affect the country. Protesters were arrested before the final of the World Cup. They were detained, or hidden, in prison until the final was completed. But even disgruntled Brazilians believe they live in a place that has an exceptional destiny. Brazil always contains promise.
Jose is philosophical about achievement.
‘The truth is that you just keep getting older,’ said Jose.
This just might be the secret of long life, imagination without hysteria, or the realisation that the only exaltation that exists is in endurance.
Nazis transformed Germany into an unpleasant imperial power in less than 6 years. We all know what followed, so much for achievement.
Stalin, Churchill, Hitler and the rest, ‘who are you,’ Jose might say.
The oldest man on the planet has no health problems apart from a loss of appetite. In the home for old people, where he lives, the nurses give him a tablet to ensure that he eats four meals a day. Jose is a bachelor. If he has or has had a sex life, the nurses are not telling. Jose is lucid and a man still capable of amusing others with jokes. Inevitably, though, he has old-fashioned ways. Jose sings songs nobody remembers. Neither is he persuaded by the modern doctrine that we should bathe every day. When not in the mood to wash, Jose refuses to take a shower.
So Jose may be cute and witty but he is not cool or hip. The really hip imagine their lives ending in explosion. Nothing can persist for them beyond their eminence. The cautious sidestep existence. They have quiet hobbies and wait to expire. The blessed know how to endure and prevail.
Jose spent most of his life working on a coffee plantation as a free man. In his spare time he may or may not have watched football. Jose worked and then he rested and then Jose noticed that he was getting older. The world amuses him still but repetition has convinced Jose that there is no mystery.
‘The truth is that you just keep getting older.’
Howard Jackson has published 3 books. Innocent Mosquitoes describes his 11,000 mile journey around Brazil. If you want to read more about Brazil click here.