March 17, 2006

Return to Ireland with Michael

Two weeks ago, I received a wonderful, unexpected message from 92-year-old Michael Saparoff, a charming and talented gentleman I'd interviewed for a 2004 newspaper story and about whom I'd written in this blog last St. Patrick's Day. Michael didn't know about the 2005 blog post. Amazingly, his daughter came across the post on the Web last month and e-mailed it to her father. Michael then sent me this note:

"Dear Lori Hein,

My daughter, Carol, who lives in Ireland, has just sent me your article "Ribbons of Highway -- Michael's memories of Ireland." I can hardly tell you how pleasantly surprised I was, because I thought that interview had long been forgotten.

Both Carol and I think you write beautifully, and I want to thank you for your great tribute.

Michael Saparoff

P.S. Incidentally, I'm still giving my monthly lectures and gave a violin recital in December."

I wrote to Michael and told him I would re-post "Michael's memories of Ireland" this St. Patrick's Day. Here is the year-old story, found by Michael's daughter in Ireland, 11 months after it was written:

Last evening, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the residents of a Boston-area senior housing complex took a one-hour trip to Ireland.

Their guide was 91-year-old Michael Saparoff, and their mode of transport was Michael’s travel slide collection. For the past five years, Michael has treated fellow residents to a monthly travelogue, taking his friends to far-off places most have never seen and now, surely never will, except through Michael’s words and pictures.

I wrote a newspaper story about Michael as part of a series about vibrant, giving seniors who prove wrong the notion that growing old means growing less useful, less alive. When I interviewed him last summer, I learned about the hours of preparation and practice Michael invests in each travelogue evening. He does this, he told me, “because it’s very good for the mind.” He also does it for Delphine.

Michael and his wife came to the senior community together, some half-dozen years ago, but an infection left Delphine needing permanent physical care, so she moved to a nursing home. Michael visits her twice daily, “at eleven, and again at four.”When Michael presents a travelogue, Delphine is in the audience, and last evening she traveled to Ireland again with her husband. “I bring my wife over every time,” Michael told me. “She comes for dinner, and people make a big to-do about her. She’s the good-looking girl in the slides.” Pausing, he added, “She’s ninety, and she’s still a good-looking girl.”

Much about Ireland has changed since Michael’s visit. The Celtic Tiger has created a robust, technology-based economy with a GDP envied by the traditional European powerhouses. Rather than leave, young Irish stay, in droves, because there’s work. Today’s visitors see fewer picturesque thatched-roof cottages, increasingly demolished in favor of modern housing, and they see sights Michael didn’t see, like the stainless steel spike, a new monument to Ireland’s vigor, that towers over O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main boulevard.

But Ireland’s an ancient place, and Michael’s photographs are, today, as valid a record of Irish culture, history and architecture as they were when he made them. A few decades haven’t changed the magnificent gray stonework of Dublin’s thousand-year-old Christchurch Cathedral; the venerable quadrangle of Trinity College, whose soaring library houses the Book of Kells, an illuminated medieval manuscript that is a wonder to look upon; the 27 Dublin acres of blooms and lawns and historic buildings that are St. Stephen’s Green; the romantic, roofless late Gothic remains of 15th-century Muckross Abbey floating on green grass above purple-misted Lower Killarney Lake; the powerful ruins of Donegal Castle, (photo above), built astride the River Eske by a 16th-century O’Donnell family chieftain.

Like Michael and his memories, timeless.