Twenty-one wooden steps separate Consuelo Jiménez from the street.
She, who lives in Araia (Álava), does not give it any importance.
She raises them and lowers them "slowly", with the only help of the handrail.
She would not have anything special if it were not for the fact that this petite woman carries 100 years behind her back.
“I remember when she was little, she would run around here and my grandmother would tell me 'Oh, I envy you, how you run!'
Now I say the same thing, ”she laughs herself.
From those times until now, a demographic revolution has been brewing in Spain.
Life expectancy has been climbing, being a centenarian will be less and less exceptional.
Rafaela Tena from Córdoba is 101 and points out that she has not liked them, with how good 100 had been for her. Milagros Ruiz-Olmo, from Ciudad Real, has turned 103 and, although sometimes data about her dance in her memory,
reading is still his favorite hobby.
All three tell what life is like when the years add up to a century.
These three women live at home with the help of carers they have hired.
The routines are different from those they had not so long ago, when Consuelo had plenty of strength to prepare the dough for the donuts by herself, Rafaela bathed in the pool and Milagros arranged the flowers in her patio.
The three say that nothing special is felt when age accumulates triple digits, more than the joy of still being here, with those who remain of their kind, a century later.
In January there were 19,930 centenarians in Spain, more than three quarters are women.
A figure that will continue to climb and could touch, within 50 years, 227,000, according to projections from the National Institute of Statistics.
More than the current population of cities like Badalona or Oviedo.
There are INE figures that speak for themselves.
In 1900, life expectancy at birth was less than 35 years.
In 2021 it reached 83.07.
The first step that the current centenarians had to take was “not to die when they were children”, points out the CSIC demographer Julio Pérez Díaz.
"Of the generations born in 1900, one in five died before reaching the age of one, half did not exceed 15".
It is a revolution, he says, that many times is not taken into account.
"For the first time in human history, all those who are born do so with the prospect of reaching old age, the average age in the world is over 70 years."
He affirms that it is difficult to establish comparisons between countries, because many times the data is fragile.
But it is indisputable that Spain has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
Although not a higher proportion of centenarians.
That will come later.
Because those who live now "are true survivors."
The extraordinary longevity of these “pioneers”, as the demographer calls them, is the subject of scientific analysis.
Ander Matheu, head of the Cellular Oncology group in Biodonostia, accredited by the Carlos III Health Institute, says that centenarians "not only live long, but also very well, with few illnesses."
They have lived independently most of the time.
His team is conducting a study on longevity in the Basque Country.
Matheu explains that the scientific literature allows us to identify two key factors: the environment and genetics.
“There are five areas in the world where the highest incidence of centenarians has been described, in Okinawa (Japan), Icaria (Greece), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Loma Linda (California) and Sardinia (Italy).
They have certain lifestyle habits, such as eating moderately and healthy or having little stress.
They are generally very optimistic people, with clearly established social environments.
And certain genetic patterns have also been detected”.
None of the three centenarians in this story seems to give too much importance to the number 100. About how to live with more than a century, each one does what they can.
Life goes slower, but they keep squeezing it.
"I don't have time to get bored"
“What I am is very slow eating.
I think I've gotten used to serving everyone and then I'm the last one to stay calm”.
Consuelo Jiménez takes a plate of borage, she has cleaned it herself, and she accompanies it with a glass of juice to which she has poured a little water.
He lives in Araia, the main population center of Asparrena, an Alava municipality of about 1,600 inhabitants, where he married and raised five children who, in turn, became parents.
She but she still she is not a great-grandmother.
"With the desire that I have to have a great-grandchild," she complains bitterly next to one of her granddaughters, Maite, who accompanies her that morning in the kitchen at home.
They are making donuts.
Quite an event because Consuelo had not been encouraged for a long time.
Years ago, she made them every week.
She has a specific frying pan for this, already burnt, and a wooden stick that her husband prepared for her so that he could remove them from the fire without any problem.
With her very fine hands and wrists, she kneads the churros one by one and places them on a tray.
Her smell runs through the corners of the house inviting you to try them.
They know how they smell.
Although she never takes them.
He makes them for his family.
“A plate of donuts with only one egg!” She boasts, “of course, how I lived through the famine years”, she laughs again.
The interview is a Thursday morning, just a few days before Consuelo's daughter, who was ill, passed away.
It is the only thing that saddens this centenarian that day in which she remembers her life and the celebration of her hundred years together with her granddaughter Maite, who was born on the same day as her, on August 3.
"Let's see if she's as lucky as me in everything," she wishes him.
"Overall, the zeros say they are worthless, there are two zeros and a one ahead, so let's see."
She lets out another laugh on the spot.
He says that by fulfilling them she does not feel anything special.
She is "proud" because she is doing very well.
"Your head hasn't moved from its place, man, you don't remember a lot of things, but come on, good."
Of the five brothers that were, two remain.
The eldest is her, the little one has dementia.
Consuelo, going down the stairs of her house on the way to the street.
Buying bread at the village store.
Regularly, Consuelo goes to the hairdresser.
Eating lunch at the kitchen table at home.
As a hobby, Consuelo sews socks for the winter that she later gives to relatives.
Consuelo was widowed and continued to live in the house where she has lived her whole life, since she left Ausejo, the town in La Rioja where she was born, at the age of four, and her family moved to Araia and set up a grocery store and a bar.
"We did street sales and we went through the towns, then my brother stayed with the business."
She shows a photo of her with her husband, Félix, with whom she came to celebrate the golden anniversary.
In the image, Consuelo has her finger up.
She "didn't like to take pictures and was telling him to stay put."
During the pandemic, she was staying with her daughters, but now she has returned home thanks to the help of Fátima, a caregiver who lives with her and who emphasizes how autonomous she is from her.
"I really liked dancing in my time."
He met her husband at the casino, when he invited her to dance and she sent a friend as an emissary to see how the man was doing.
“I'm a bit of a witch”, she laughs again.
It's the sensation in town, they talk about it in the store and at the hairdresser's, where he removes his hearing aid and disconnects for a while.
"The worst thing I have is hearing."
The neighbors say that in the last parties he was dancing rancheras.
There it is.
—What is the secret to live 100 years?
—Hey, then work, because if you stay like that, just like that, you'll go out.
You stay stunned and nothing.
He says it looks good.
“I have no pain, you can have a bad day, but I am in enviable health, with my years.
I do what I can, I only knit or crochet, read the newspaper, that's what I do”.
He says he gets up around ten in the morning, or half past ten, because he goes to bed late.
"I'm not in a hurry at night."
“I get up, I get ready, maybe I take a few turns around here [he points to the garden, to which he exits through the kitchen], I go [with Fátima] to get the newspaper, and then here”.
In the store he buys half a loaf of bread and the
There is a mountain of newspapers stacked on the shelf, and books, because her husband loved to read.
She does it without glasses.
“I have them there, but they get in the way, because I thread the sewing machine needle very well, which is not so easy,” she presumes.
Saber y ganar
is also part of the routine, a drawing of one of her seven grandchildren, the youngest of hers, shows her next to the television watching the program.
But most of all, she loves to sew.
Now she is making some gray socks, "you have to take care of the sons-in-law", and she also makes crochet lace for the towels.
"I don't have time to get bored."
"I have nothing, more than years"
In the room there are more than 200 years sitting facing each other.
On the left, Milagros Ruiz-Olmo Valencia, with 103. On the right, his sister Petra, who is 98. Each one, in a patterned armchair, and a table in the center.
They live in Calzada de Calatrava, a town in La Mancha with around 3,600 residents.
Another sister died at 102. The longevity of this family is worthy of study.
The only sound in the background is the noise of the washing machine that Estrella has installed, the woman who comes in the morning to attend to them and who goes at night to leave them in bed.
Milagros was always very reserved with her age.
"Now she gives me the same thing."
Three digits are for bragging rights.
"In addition, I'm very well, I don't hurt anything or have anything," she continues.
“Life looks different, of course, but you don't realize it, you know?
You go living and you see it, and that's it,
"You can no longer take care of your house, your things."
For a few years she has lived with her sister, so that they can keep company with her, and Estrella can take care of both of them.
Her children do not reside in Calzada, the majority do so in Madrid, where they spent a large part of their lives.
Milagros no longer sews, and before she could, so much so that she had a bag factory, first with her brothers and then with her husband, who also worked all her life for the City Council of the capital.
She was always very homemade, but now she goes out less and less.
"I can't walk much.
The walker is there, but I rarely use it, I don't like it, ”she laughs.
Milagros and Petra talk, although they have to ask questions many times to hear each other well.
"We have a house five kilometers from here," says the first.
“What?” Petra replies.
“The farmhouse”, continues Milagros, and adds: “We go to eat on Sundays many times and it is very nice”, they go when their children visit them.
Some flowers that Cari, Milagros's daughter, has brought that weekend, continue to brighten up the room, next to the TV.
Next to the apparatus rests
Los aires difíciles,
by Almudena Grandes.
Milagros loves this author and she always looks for her works.
She demonstrates how she reads without glasses.
“My son takes my books from the library.
I read a lot, I have nothing else to do”.
Her somewhat trembling hands have recently brought a cup of latte to her mouth, just before taking her pills.
“I take for circulation, but nothing special.”
Her sister is a little worse.
“I have a headache from the moment I get up until I go to bed,” explains Petra, saddened.
Milagros pedals in the armchair of her house in Calzada de Calatrava (Ciudad Real).
His most recent reading is a book by Almudena Grandes.
Petra, Milagros's sister, drinks coffee.
Milagros continues to take great care of herself.
In the morning, a mirror is her best companion.
He combs his hair, creams his face.
"I think all people do it."
She exercises her legs thanks to a
She says that the hours go by slowly.
"It's a nightmare", sometimes she gets bored.
They don't turn on the TV until noon, and then Telecinco accompanies them all afternoon.
Milagros's face lights up when she remembers her 103rd birthday, with the whole family together.
He says that he did not find out about the pandemic.
Estrella immediately clarifies that his son was there in February 2020, with what they believed that he was constipated, and that he ended up admitted to the hospital, although he evolved well.
Despite this, none were infected with covid.
There are things that are forgotten.
Others are still engraved on fire.
“I remember the war perfectly.
We lived ours, then the world war and now this one [the one in Ukraine], we have had three wars”.
She and Petra had to travel to Madrid in 1937 in a cattle car, after her father died.
There were nine siblings, her mother had died pregnant with her tenth child long before.
When things got bad in Madrid, she had to go back to town, and then they returned to the capital.
There Milagros was "a lady in the company of a marquise", her brothers-in-law went into exile in Algeria.
Petra recalls the post-war period with horror: “It was very bad.
I saw a young boy pick up a banana peel that was on the ground and eat it."
For this reason, because they remember what that was like, Milagros believes that with the war in Ukraine "something will touch us."
Both now lead a simple life, attached to the family.
A 91-year-old niece calls them on the phone to say hello.
They agree that they will call each other later.
Milagros insists that she is doing great.
“I have nothing, nothing more than years, yes.
As long as they are like this, well…”
"God is blessing me, I have not lost memory"
The phone rings.
She greets and soon she is heard saying thank you very much and she tells how well they had the day before, “no one was missing”.
When cutting, she writes down her name on a piece of paper that is running out of space.
The list of those who have congratulated her on San Rafael grows even the day after the name day.
Her saint's day is more important to her than her birthday, and this year Rafaela Tena Antón has celebrated it for the first time since the pandemic.
She did not go to a bar, as she used to be, but her family divided into two batches to accompany Tati, as everyone calls her after "a nephew who could not say Rafi" baptized her that way.
She shared a house all her life with two sisters and they were known as the three aunts or the three aunts.
"Now it's just me."
The last aunt of "more than 60 nephews."
To the 10 children of his brothers are added their children and their grandchildren.
“Requete nephews”, she laughs.
His house, in Córdoba, attests that a special relationship unites them, dozens of photos attest to it.
His favorite corner is occupied by three wingback chairs around a stretcher table.
Rafaela sits in the center, wearing a dazzling white blouse with an embroidered collar.
There she spends her days, with a blessing from Pope Francis for her 100th birthday hanging on her wall.
The light that enters through the window floods the room and a walker is parked to one side, ready to provide service.
It's much more than the doctor expected years ago, when he broke his hip and warned her he wouldn't walk again.
Petite she is.
Until a few months ago she took a walk without help to the Plaza de las Tendillas.
But this summer she started to feel very tired and she went to the doctor.
"I had four electros and my heart was dislocated,
They admitted me and that's where I caught this cold,” he explains, pointing to some aerosols on the table, next to some tuberose.
He loves flowers.
"Up to one hundred I was very good, but 101 made me feel very bad."
Now the steps are short.
But the daily walk does not fail, even if she is sitting instead of walking and a relative or María, the caregiver who has lived with her for a few months, pushes the wheelchair.
He never imagined that he would already be on his way to 102, although his sister María “died with a hundred and a half”.
Marta, a great-niece of hers, explains that one of her phrases is: "Oh, if I were 20 years younger."
Oh, if I were 81!
“I used to dig the earth in the house we have in the village”, Rafaela adds.
“For me all ages have been like 20″.
Just a few years ago she would eat churros “every day”.
"Then I drank a glass of water with lemon so that I could lose weight, and I no longer ate dinner."
She now goes from time to time.
“Last year I was late and they told me: 'Ah, but haven't you died?'
No, I'm still alive, ”she laughs again at the memory.
"Except working, I do everything, and I've already worked enough."
Her first salary was 116 pesetas, as a secretarial assistant.
Her retirement is long behind her.
Rafaela and her great-niece Marta tour the center of Córdoba on their morning walk.
The courtyard of Rafaela's childhood home is a tourist attraction in the city.
Rafaela answers the calls of relatives who congratulate her on her saint's day.
Detail of the paper in which Rafaela writes down the name of those who have called her on her saint's day.
Rafaela and her great-niece Marta have lunch in the living room at home.
Rafaela, smelling some recently bought flowers for her living room.
“God is blessing me everywhere.
I haven't lost my memory."
Every day he thanks him.
"In the mornings I say the rosary while I'm having breakfast, I listen to the mass, I take a little walk and read the Gospels."
Afterwards he has lunch, with a small glass of wine.
"I take a nap in the hammock [an armchair that he brought from town and also has in the living room] and in the afternoon I watch a soap opera."
The worst are the nights.
“I sleep very little, two and a half hours and nothing more.
I take a sleeping pill."
He says that she is “very tough”: “I endure and endure and endure, and when María comes [in the morning] it seems that God comes.
She and she put me on well, she lifts me up a little, because of course, since I'm lying down, I slip away.
I tell him to give me a foot massage, it hurts like hell… The bed seems endless to me.
I'm looking forward to getting up."
That's where all your energy comes from.
She says that sometimes she closes her eyes and starts to remember.
"So-and-so left, and the other one left, and the other one, and I, who do nothing in this world, am still here."
Rafaela affirms that she suffered more when someone died than if she had done it herself.
Her father, her brother and her sister's husband were killed during the war by militiamen from the Republican side.
“My father took a photo of us every year.
Since we were kicked out of the house [during the war], we rescued only one [image],” she says as he shows her around.
"The whole family is here."
Her parents and her eight children.
With everything, he remains with how beautiful his life has been.
"[She has been] very bad, very bad, but very pretty too."
She prefers to remember the good times, when she dressed up as a ghost and scared her little nephews, when her sister learned to drive when she was 70 and they went on vacation, the trip to Mexico when she was close to 80. But above all, her Calleja de las Flores .
This tourist street in Córdoba was her home from 1945 until about 12 years ago.
“There were no flowers here, my mother began to put them up with a neighbor, who worked at the City Hall.
She was gorgeous”.
Her house was "the prettiest on the street," she boasts as she shows it around.
At that moment, a group of tourists burst in.
“Here we had two hydrangeas,” she notes.
"And the arches were full of flowers."
She asks her granddaughter's niece for a cutting of hers and she replies: "Tati, let's see if they're going to scold us."
I tell them it's my house."
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits
I'm already a subscriber