No lizards leaping in this year’s fountain

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 26, 2001

No doubt about it. A fountain of youth has fascinated humankind for centuries. Even among those who proclaim belief in life after death, the idea of peeling off the years and starting over on Earth has its charms. The past year spurs such thoughts, as 2001 was filled with medical breakthroughs and miraculous discoveries.

It makes one wonder what Methuselah would think. As the only one who really might have known something about a fountain of youth, he surely every now and then must get a kick from the rush of every generation to find it.

Methuselah, after all, lived to be 969 years old, the Bible says. No one to date has bettered his numbers. Did he have a secret he could share?

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Legends about fountains of youth cross many cultures. The Central American and West Indies natives believed a fountain of youth existed somewhere in the Bahamas.

One of the most famous stories is of the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon (1460-1521). The intrepid adventurer believed he had found the fountain of youth in Florida, where underground springs reportedly bubbled elixir-like water. In St. Augustine, tour guides are happy to point out the spring. They do not promise what its powers might be.

Lately perpetual-youth seekers have sought answers in oat bran or gingko; or maybe now in the calcium tablets we take for bones, recently touted as good medicine for the colon, also.

The flurry of information leaves some breathless. You hear that chocolate is poison one year and that it is fine – yes, even beneficial – the next.

Will too much coffee make you ill? Or is the caffeine-filled drink just the medicine needed for good health? Is it an apple a day or an aspirin a day? Or is it a lizard?

A few years ago, reports emerged that in a remote area of China an impressive number of octogenarians resided happily and healthily – possibly the highest concentration of over-100 people in the world. At the time of the report, the oldest was 130 and still doing her own housework and cooking.

The residents, including the 80-year-olds who continued to work daily in the rice fields, acknowledged that their lifestyle was not what conventional wisdom would describe as healthy. They admitted overeating, overdrinking and smoking too many Chinese cigarettes.

Asked the secret to their longevity, most spoke of their diets of wild grass, snakes and lizards. It did not take long for the marketers, the latter-day Ponce de Leons, to get to work. In no time, stores specializing in exotic products began to import a product from China called Red Spotted Lizard Wine.

The aged but spry Chinese who produced it proclaimed the product good for the lungs, heart and other body parts. Who would argue with them?

And Methuselah? Well, maybe he is scratching his chin, smiling and keeping a keen eye on all the latest developments as they occur.

The lizards pickled in the Chinese wine must not have been a big success. No one around here has seen any Red Spotted Lizard Wine. No one admits it, at any rate.

What’s more, chances are lizards have too much sodium for the Southerner’s diet anyway. The quest continues.

Joan Gandy may be reached at 445-3549 or by e-mail at joan.gandy@