Spain's blogging gran a hit with surfers
SANXENXO, Pontevedra (Reuters) - "Today it's my birthday and my grandson, who is very stingy, gave me a blog."
So reads the first entry by one of the world's oldest Webloggers, Maria Amelia Lopez, who, at the age of 95, has surprised herself by a sudden conversion from Web-illiterate to cybercelebrity.
"At first I thought a blog was just a type of paper notebook," said Lopez, a great grandmother.
"When I saw my grandson using the Internet, it caught my attention. I said to myself 'What's this? You can find out about anything. I want an Internet!'"
With 60,000 regular readers so far, Lopez's homely mix of memory and chat, available at amis95.blogspot.com/, attracts regular readers from around the world and has put her back in touch with the younger generation in a way she had never imagined.
"No one pays any attention to old women any more. Not many people love us. But I was surprised by the Internet, because young people who were 18 years of age, or 14 or 15, tell me about their lives and what they think and ask my advice," said Lopez.
Only one in 10 people over the age of 65 use the Internet in Spain, slightly below the European average. Although that proportion has nearly doubled over the last two years, it still suggests older citizens are missing the digital revolution even though they make up a growing portion of the population.
"Age is more important (to determining Internet use) than income, gender .... or level of education," said Domingo Laborda, an official Spain's Industry Ministry.
The proportion of Internet users declines even more steeply after 65. Only 2.7 percent of over-74s has ever surfed the Net.
But technology can help break down the isolation brought so often by advancing age.
"Although nothing can make up for affection, the Internet can help communication, with mail, chat or messaging, and it's fun and always available," said the ministry's Laborda.
Visit Lopez's home in the village of Sanxenxo in the rainy northern Spanish region of Galicia and you see her ability to pour out words on the net is matched by loquaciousness in person.
"I was always talkative, but now I feel more wanted, embraced, because so may people write to me," said Lopez.
On her blog she makes occasional references to her youthful good looks ("Ah, how pretty I was, and how little I realised it"), but today she has white hair and walks with a stick.
"Look at what I was," she wrote in one entry, beneath a photograph of herself from 60 or 70 years ago, "And look at what I am, at what I have become. My eyes aren't pretty, nor my mouth, or anything, not my body. Age disfigures everything."
"The Internet has given me life," she told Reuters, describing how she receives messages from places as diverse as Brazil, Russia and Japan.
Lopez has called herself as "the world's oldest blogger", although a quick Google search reveals several pretenders to the title, including 108-year-old Australian Olive Riley, who can be found at www.allaboutolive.com.au/.
CIVIL WAR MEMORIES
Due partly to cataracts which mean she can't see screens well, Lopez is assisted in her blogging by her grandson, Daniel, who takes her dictation.
Many of her stories deal with a long life, which started happily and then had to steer through Spain's vicious Civil War and the long years of dictatorship by General Francisco Franco which followed.
"I had a very happy youth," she wrote, describing expeditions to bullfights and fun times with her cousins.
"Young men were different back then. They brought us flowers, gardenias, violets, chocolates. Not like the foul-mouthed bunch today."
It was one of these polite young men who told her of the outbreak of Civil War in 1936.
"He had left-wing ideas .... the boy said to me 'Maria Amelia, this is a revolution!' And I began to hear shooting," Lopez blogged, describing how later that day her father was chased out of his job at a customs office by Franco's men.
Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has written to congratulate Lopez on her blog and she recommends other seniors to take up blogging.
But it's not all easy.
"I'm going to die before I get broadband," read one recent, sad entry.