Although I certainly cannot say I knew him, I ran into Sam Shepard (5 November 1943 – 27 July 2017) more frequently than almost any other famous person I have ever ‘known’. And, some of those times I would only realize it was him after he had moved on.
On a blustery early evening in March or April about eight years ago, I was leaving the Asian Tribal Art Show on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street in NYC, head down to counter the cold, when he breezed by me in a stride as brisk as the wind, cowboy hat pulled low over his forehead and the collar of his shearling coat cinched up high; I only realized it was him after he had passed by. But where I saw him most often was in Santa Fe at the great bookstore Op Cit. He was an avid reader (or an avid book buyer) and he would bend his tall frame over, pick up a paperback and check it out much like any lover of the printed word.
And word lover he was in both consumption and production: 55 plays, 50 films, a dozen plus TV roles and at least 7 books that were not plays. Among his additional talents were banjo picker, song writer, Obie Award collector (I believe he holds the record at 10 wins) and voice actor for the audio book of Spaulding Gray’s last monologue. He avidly avoided aviation travel but was sometimes guilty of driving under the influence.
Mr. Shepard turned the final page last Thursday from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, popularly called Lou Gehrig’s disease in the U.S. and motor neurone disease (MND) in Britain.
He and his writing will be much missed.
“Sam always wrote from that place — a zone of trauma, mystery and grief. Whether the play was more mainstream or experimental in its conception, he took the big risk every time.” – playwright Christopher Shinn, The NY Times, July 31, 2017.
Grapes were first grown in the New World near the middle Rio Grande River of New Mexico. Initially, Franciscan monks’ only access to sacramental and drinking wine was from casks shipped from their home country, Spain. And, it had to enter through the ports in Mexico and thenceforth northward to Nuevo Mexico – a journey of several months. As wine exports provided one fourth of Spain’s foreign revenue, a 1595 law forbade export of vines to the New World. Around 1629, the Franciscan padres, tired of the logistics and expense, smuggled vines from Spain to New Mexico, a classic example of our New Mexican do-for-self ingenuity. A Franciscan and a Capuchin planted those first vines near what is now the city of Socorro. Appropriately, the variety was the Mission grape, a vitas vinifera and it is still going strong in the state.
There are now twenty plus wineries in New Mexico producing about 350,000 gallons of quality wine on 1200 acres (circa 5 square kilometers.) While substantial, this is still less than was produced during the heyday of New Mexican wine making. Production rose from 16,000 gallons in 1870 to 908,000 gallons in 1880 with twice the acreage of the vineyards in present-day New York state. Alas, floods, then Prohibition, then more floods put paid to the industry. The historic 1943 flood kicked the final leg from under the state’s wine makers. It is only in the last score of years that wine-making has enjoyed a renaissance, especially with cold-hardy French-Hybrid varieties pushed by European investors.