Sardinia is the island of the centenarians: nowhere else in the world is the number of centenarians higher in relation to the population. The oldest Sardinian was 111 years of age. Piero Brosolo from Arzachena in northeast Sardinia has also reached a ripe old age. The spry gentleman talks about his long life – and tells how to grow old and stay fit.

Piero Brosolo is sitting upright, with a straight back, on his bed in a retirement home in Arzachena, which is situated on the famous Costa Smeralda in northeast Sardinia. He has lived in the home since 2010, initially with his wife who died almost two years ago. Since then, Piero has shared the room twice with other residents. Both also passed away, his most recent roommate just recently – aged 105! Now Piero Brosolo is the oldest resident in the home and has the room to himself. “I have survived three roommates already. I think no one has the courage to share a room with me now, for fear they will die before me too,” the old man says with a twinkle in his eye. His smile is gentle and low-key, but his handshake is strong and confident.

Photos: Sandra Casalini

They called him Slipper Piero

Piero Brosolo was born on 31st January 1915. His father was a “postino”, a postman, and Pierino an only child. As a young boy, he helped his papà deliver the post. On foot of course. “Whenever steps had to be climbed, I would climb them and ring the doorbell. If someone was having a bad day and wanted to be mean, they would come to the door and say: ‘Go and get your father!’ Then I’d go back down the steps and my father would have to go up instead,” Piero says with a laugh. His laugh is gentle, slightly throaty – the result of forty years of smoking, which he stopped in the 1970s. “When I was a boy, I was always running,” he explains gesticulating wildly with both arms “My mamma made me ciabatte (slippers), and I would run around the village wearing them. They called me Piero Ciabatta (Slipper Piero).”

When Slipper Piero was eleven, the “parrucchiere”, the village barber, needed an assistant. “So I started working with Berto,” Piero gushes, his voice now very vibrant, often speaking in the local dialect that contains numerous “u”s and uttering the occasional “porco cane!” – an Italian swearword, the literal translation of which is “pig-dog” and basically means “sod it!” in the figurative sense. The first time Piero cut the hair of a customer was when he was 14. And so it was decided: Piero would be a hairdresser.

Meeting Mussolini

And then the war broke out. Aged 18, Piero Brosolo was conscripted into the army. He recalls the many soldiers travelling in railway waggons across the country. And the day he met Mussolini. Benito Mussolini, Prime Minister of the Kingdom, Dictator at the helm of Italy’s fascist regime. Soldier Brosolo was stationed in Sicily. “We were standing in line,” he says. “Mussolini paced the line without looking at any of us. Then he turned around and stopped in front of me. In front of me. He asked me where I was from, how old I was and whether I had any siblings. ‘Just me. No one else.’” Piero folds his hands in his lap and takes a deep breath. “We stood there in line. And then Mussolini arrived. He paced the line without looking at any of us…” – “Papà, you just said that,” his daughter says, gently placing her hand on his arm. Annamaria Brosolo is sitting next to her father and has been listening to him attentively. Her husband Sebastiano is sitting on a chair at the foot of the bed. Carer Daniela has made herself comfortable on the other bed, together with her two young daughters. Everyone in the room is hanging on Piero Brosolo‘s every word.

After the war, he married and then Annamaria was born. Today, Piero has a grandson and an eighteen-year-old great-granddaughter. He took over Berto’s barber shop in the 1970s – and continued to cut hair and shave beards until he was 85! He points excitedly to a framed newspaper clip on the wall. “84-year-old parrucchiere about to retire,” it reads. Piero did not just cut hair and shave beards; he also gave advice – which seems to come with the job. “The shave was always smooth. Whether the advice I gave was always good, I do not know,” he adds with a smile.

“I never went overboard”

Piero Brosolo rises slowly from the bed. His son-in-law hands him a crutch. That is all Piero needs to get around. He walks along the hallway with a firm step, down the stairs to the garden for some fresh air. “When I was a boy, I was always running,” he says. “You are still running,” carer Daniela remarks. “Only when I’m tired will I take the ‘bus’, instead of walking up and down the stairs,” Piero says and points to the lift with a wink. The centenarian-plus-two takes no medication whatsoever. “I am sure he will live for another ten years!” says Daniela convinced.

He was fortunate with his health, Piero Brosolo muses. He once had a tumour when he was a young man. “They wanted to send me to hospital. But I didn’t want that. I had a customer who was a doctor, and he said that if I looked after myself and ate healthily, the tumour would shrink. That is what I did, and some years later the tumour had disappeared.” Piero stopped smoking when he started having mild asthma attacks. Not that he went to see a doctor about this: “I’d do a headstand, to allow the mucus to flow off. That helped!” He always ate everything – “But I never overate. You don’t need five slices of salami on your bread. Three are enough. And I always stopped eating when I was satisfied.” The same applies to alcohol. “I never went overboard.” His daughter Annamaria confirms: “I am over seventy now, and have never once seen my father tipsy.” But Pietro Brosolo still enjoys his daily glass of wine. “Everyone does here,” says Daniela and laughs. “The vino is good for old people.” Piero is not the only centenarian in the home. There is a lady of a similar age, and several residents who are well in their nineties. Typical for Sardinia.

The centenarian secret: no troubles

But what is the secret of these centenarians? “I never get upset. Never. No matter whom it may concern,” Piero Brosolo explains, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. “L’annoio fa male e il male fa morire.” Being upset makes you ill, and if you are ill, you die. It’s that simple. And Piero clearly wants to live for a bit longer. After all, he quite enjoys life in the home. People are nice. He gets up in the morning, has breakfast and does his exercises. Before lunch, he tackles some crossword puzzles, then he might go for a walk or take part in an organised outing to the sea. He still reads the paper every day, and wears reading glasses for that – “but I could manage without!” the spry gentleman stresses. Lights out is at 09:30 pm. By the way, Piero Brosolo always carries his mobile phone with him in his pocket, so that his family can reach him. But he does not own a computer. “That might upset me.” And as we have learned: being upset makes you ill, and if you are ill, you die.

Daniela smiles. “Piero is very special. But I see the serenity and calm in many of the older people here. We Sardinians live very harmonious and modest lives. We don’t need much to be happy. Friends and family, that’s all.” He has always been content with his life, says Piero. “What more can one ask for. Right?”

Text: Sandra Casalini