오늘 아침에 빵과 함께 불가리스를 마시면서 문득 생각난 것이 아래에 발췌해 놓은 미국 뉴욕타임즈 지의 11년 전 기사였다. 어제 낮부터 밤 늦게까지 내몸의 컨디션이 너무 안 좋았다가 아침이 되어 겨우 회복되었는데 마침 먹고 있던 것이 건강에 좋다고 광고하는 그것이기 때문이었나보다. 꼭 이 회사의 이 브랜드 명을 가진 것은 아니고 비슷한 여러가지 고급 요거트 제품에 다 포함되는 내용이다. 아래에 보인 원문의 내용을 약간 번역해 보면 다음과 같다.
이 산속 마을의 사람들을 지구상 어느 곳보다 더 오래 살게 해주는 데에는 뭔가 특별한 것이 있다. 깨끗한 물과, 좋은 공기와 허리가 휘도록 해야하는 노동 때문일 수도 있다. 하지만 그것은 식품회사들이 광고를 해대는 그 “요거트” 때문은 아니었다.
그 마을 최연장자인 121 세의 ‘모블라모프’씨는 “난 평생 한번도 그런 요거트 먹어본 일 없수다” 라고 대답한다. 기네스 북에 기록되어 있는 세계 최장수 인물은 지금으로부터 25년 전 (이 기사가 쓰인 1998년 기준) 에 168세로 사망한 ‘쉬랄리 무스티모프’라는 사람인데 그도 이 121 세 노인이 사는 옆 마을에 살았다고 한다. 모블라모프 씨의 아들 가운데는 그가 80세 때 당시 36세였던 지금의 아내 (그의 3번째 아내)로부터 얻은 40세짜리도 있는 반면, 그의 손자 중에서 가장 나이 많은 사람은 첫 아내와의 사이에서 얻은 84세짜리라고 한다.
이 지역 사람들은 너무 가난하고 주변 환경이 열악해서 배불리 먹지 못하고 거의 짐승처럼 힘들게 일하며 의학의 혜택은 거의 보지 못한다. 그들의 식사는 주로 채소와 과일과 시큼한 치즈 종류로 구성되어있다. 이 장수촌이 유명해진 뒤에 많은 과학자들이 이 지역에 와서 사람들의 DNA 검사도 해보고 혈액검사도 해보기도 했지만 특별히 다른 점은 못 찾았다고 한다. 환경적으로 공기와 물이 아주 깨끗하다는 점, 그리고 “clean, stress-free living” 즉 스트레스 없는 생활을 할 수 있는 환경과 그렇게 살 수 있게 해주는 유전자 때문일 것이라는 짐작만 할 뿐이다.
내가 어제 먹은 약은 속이 거북해서 먹은 위장약과 체했을 때 생기곤 하는 심한 두통 때문에 먹은 타이레놀이었다. 오늘 아침엔 몸에 좋다는 고급 요거트도 먹었다. 위의 무병장수한다는 사람들과는 여전히 많이 다른 생활이다. 공기 안 좋은 대도시 한가운데에서 살며, 신선한 채소도 별로 안 먹고, 소식은 커녕 과식으로 탈이 날 정도의 식생활이며, 힘든 노동은 커녕 1킬로미터도 걷지 않았고, 일한답시고 스트레스 만땅의 시간을 보냈으며, 온갖 전자기기와 인터넷을 통해 밀려들어오는 정보 속에서 Simple Life 와는 거리가 먼 하루를 지냈다. 물론 이런 식으로도 잘 먹고 오래 잘 사는 사람도 적지 않건만, 난 그게 좋지는 않다. 그런 생활 패턴이 어차피 내 정신과 체질에 맞지 않는다는 것도 잘 안다.
그래서 방 구석에서 무릎꿇고 두손 든… 그런 기분으로 또 한번 반성 중이다. 그 지역 사람들처럼 살겠다는 것은 아니다. 어차피 비슷해 질 수도 없는 일이다. 단지 내가 생각하는대로 내가 옳다고 생각하는 방식으로 살고 있는지에 관해서이다. 내가 할 수 있는 최대한의 Simple and Clean Life 를 살겠다는 희망대로 내 삶의 방향이 가고 있는지에 대한 반성이다.
March 14, 1998
Lerik Journal; Yogurt? Caucasus Centenarians ‘Never Eat It’
By MICHAEL SPECTER
Something appears to be keeping people in this breathtaking mountain village alive longer than anywhere else on earth. It could be the clean water, the bracing air or a life of back-breaking labor.
It might be luck, and it’s probably genetics. But it isn’t yogurt. Despite well-known American commercials in which the people of this Caucasus Mountain region were said to attain their legendary longevity by eating yogurt, the stuff is not very popular here.
”I never eat it,” Mirzahan Movlamov said dismissively. ”Never.”
In his case never is a long time. At 121 Mr. Movlamov is the oldest man in a village famous for centenarians and, according to his birth documents, one of the oldest people in the world. He lives in a bare room with his third wife (nearly half a century younger than he is) and is usually surrounded by dozens of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
This place may be as close on earth as it gets to Shangri-la — the mythical land where people seem to live forever — but it certainly is bizarre. There are scores of astonishingly old people living here, on a mountain ridge just a few miles from the Iranian border.
For a while the Guinness Book of World Records recognized somebody from a village nearby, Shirali Muslimov, as the oldest man who ever lived. Born in 1805, he died 25 years ago, reportedly at the age of 168.
People here don’t really have family trees; they have family forests. Mr. Movlamov, for instance, has a 41-year-old son (conceived when he was 80 and when his current wife was 36) and he has an 84-year-old grandson, who descended from Mr. Movlamov’s first wife.
In between there are scores of others, some children from his most recent marriage who are decades younger than grandchildren he has from his first marriage. He has one son, a grandson and a great-granddaughter all born within two years of each other.
His first wife was his true love. They were married in 1905, when he was 28 and she was 12.
”I stole her,” he said, matter-of-factly, speaking in a rare mountain dialect, which was then translated into Azeri by one grandson and from there into Russian by another. ”I rode into the next village on my horse and grabbed her. I was in the Czar’s cavalry at the time. I loved her very much.”
He and his first wife were happily married until she died in 1954 — at the age of 61, which passes for adolescence in these parts. He says she never mentioned his abrupt courtship — the theft of young women being the traditional way mountain men obtained their brides.
In fact, the leader of Ingushetia, in the northern Caucasus, recently admitted that bride abduction was still common in his region — and he is seeking to make it legal again.
For the millions of Americans obsessed with gurus, diet doctors, spiritualists and New Age herbalists who promise to tell them how to live forever, a trip to this part of the world might seem appealing. But it isn’t likely to answer their questions.
It’s hard to say why people here — poor, poorly served by medicine and mostly ignorant — live a long life. They don’t eat much, and they work like beasts. Vegetables, fruit and sour cheeses are dietary staples. The water 300 miles south of Baku is as clear as the azure skies. The crisp mountain air is good enough to eat.
Still, when Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, doctors descended on the place and took a bunch of blood tests. They found nothing conclusive, and most researchers tend to attribute longevity here to a combination of clean, stress-free living and genes that are programmed to last.
Simplicity might also play a role. Look at Saray Nuriyeva. Her family says she is either 114 or 110; it’s not clear from documents, and she is getting a little vague when it comes to dates. She lives in the tiny settlement of Mondiga, five miles straight up into the mountains from Lerik. She has been there her whole life, surrounded by her family, living literally on the border of Iran, a country she is not aware exists.
She does know all about Moscow and Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. But she has never been to either place and says she isn’t sad about it. To the degree that a life that started before the Soviet Union existed has been consumed by wars, and consists largely of doing nothing but working and sleeping, can be said to be typical, hers has been.
She was engaged at the age of 9 to a boy from a village a mile away. But a series of blood feuds between the villages lasted two years, so she couldn’t marry him until she was 11.
”I came here then,” she said, again speaking through a relay of family interpreters, ”and I have been here ever since.”
She had 10 children, seven of whom are still alive. She still walks outside every day, although she is clearly growing frail. She drinks a lot of milk (it’s not yogurt, but it’s close) and when she feels bad she chews on local herbs.
She has never taken a pill or a drug in her life, her grandson, Vassim Gabayev, the 77-year-old family spokesman, said.
Her husband and his two brothers left in 1941 to fight in World War II. Each was over 50 at the time; none ever returned. Her first son died in 1990 at the age of 80. Since then two other children have died as well.
Perhaps not surprisingly, with dozens — or more — people living to 100, younger people in this region sometimes get less attention than perhaps they should.
”Come over here a minute, would you?” Novruz Novruzov, the village mayor, asked of an extremely old woman wrapped entirely in black scarves. The woman hobbled toward him.
”May I see your passport?” he asked. She took out a battered old Soviet document that listed her birth year as 1909, which would mean she’s not even 90.
”Oh, take it back,” he said, abruptly returning the passport. ”We don’t need you. We’re only looking for old people.”