Authorities on health all advise us that we must drink at least eight servings of 8-oz. cup of water everyday in order to avoid dehydration and remain healthy. That makes the total of 64 oz. or one gallon, and tea, coffee, and soft drinks don't count.

That is a lot of water. I've never been much of a water drinker. On a typical day, I drink not much more than one pint of water. If I remember to remind myself, I may have two pints. If I spend one hot day out in the sun to get a deep tan, I perspire a lot and may end up drinking something close to a gallon -- just maybe.

If health advice is to be believed, it is a miracle that I am still alive. Or, if still alive, I must be so dehydrated that I look half-dead. I am skinny but not skeletally skinny, not enough to frighten Halloween children. I never acquired the habit of drinking water many times a day; and I don't drink water between meals, and I drink much at mealtime either.

One reason I can think of why I never developed a drinking habit (of this kind) is that I hate sweating. Since I was little I found it uncomfortable to be wet, dripping sweat. I did not engage in sports unless forced, and I never enjoyed any kind of sports. I also thought sweating is unsightly. What is it they say? Horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow. Some men do sweat, however.

Only since I began cultivating sunbathing for a deep tan, I not only started not minding sweating but even finding the sweaty slippery body pleasurable in a certain way when sunbathing. But I still don't like to sweat in street clothes and find people who perspire profusely in public places quite disconcerting to behold.

Still another reason why I don't like to drink much water is that if I had a glass of water every hour on the hour, I would be going to pass the water -- down and out -- much too often, like every half hour of my waking day and some of the nighttime. That's simply inconvenient.

People who perspire drink a lot of water, naturally. Bottled water that has come into vogue in the last ten years is no doubt a boon to them. But to a non-drinker like myself, it is amusing to watch how they willingly carry around the extra weight of a water bottle in their backpack or tote, or, even more comically, how they try to maneuver it in their two hands already busy with a CD player, a cellphone, and an apple or a sandwich halfway in the process of being eaten -- while walking at that.

In the old days, people found drinking fountains in public places to quench their thirst. They are unsanitary; it has been reported, credibly, that the handle of a public drinking fountain holds more germs than the public toilet seat. There is a metal shield over the drinking spout to prevent drinkers from putting their mouth over it. In my childhood, the spout was open and invited suckers -- spout suckers. Mother taught us to wash the spout with the tip of our fingers before drinking and never to touch it with our mouth. When we went on excursion into the country, we expected that drinking water was not available in the woods and carried a canteen along with a picnic lunch. Bottled water is an improvement; it is clean and it is available anywhere any time only if you are willing to shlep it around. It make potable water portable.

I do wonder, however, how much better the water from a bottle is than the ordinary tap water. Purest water, of course, is distilled water and it is tasteless with all the impurities removed. If we go to a place where tap water is unsanitary, we boil the water to approximate distillation and so purify it and make it potable; it has little taste. So, manufacturers of bottled water must add minerals after purifying the water in order to make it taste better. On the label of one bottled water, we read that the water it delivers "is filtered for purity, using state of the art treatment by reverse osmosis, and enhanced with minerals for pure fresh taste." But where does the water come from? A natural spring, a mountain stream, a reservoir, or a water company? Who knows.

In Europe -- in Italy, France, Germany, and elsewhere -- bottled water was a fixture at the table long before the popularity of bottled water in this country. Acqua minerale is mineral water drawn from the streams that feed a spa and claimed health benefits like the spas themselves; and it has a distinct taste unique to the spa it came from. Some are naturally carbonated; others are non-gaseous. Mineral water came in glass bottles, however, and was not really portable. The popularity of bottled water in the US began with Perrier's worldwide distribution, which by its brand name gave bottled waters a prestige and sprouted domestic competitors or, rather, imitations. They are imitations since for the most part they are drawn from water taps rather than from mountain springs.

Bottled waters in America are more generally treated versions of tap water, already filtered and treated; so, they are still one more step removed from spring water, and they cost a whole lot more. A 1.25 pint bottle I bought at a seaside concession the other day cost me $2.75. Granted there are situations when bottled water is a necessity as when one is on a hike in the mountains. But is it more than a minor convenience in the city? And, is there a special health benefit in sipping a mouthful every fifteen minutes as opposed to having a glass or two every two or three hours? It makes me wonder about the behavior of sucking the nipple cap on the bottle which I can only describe as infantile.

I believe carrying a plastic bottle of water is a fashion statement; Evian and Perrier are displayed for style. I confess it is to me a laughable cultural phenomenon. But what do I know. I am a non-drinker.

I find the tap water in New York City exceptionally tasty; and the water in Philadelphia area, too. Natural water in Rome is even better. All over the city and the countryside around, there are fountains and open taps with perpetually running potable spring water; it is clean, cold, and refreshingly delicious. Romans still prefer mineral water at the table; they consider it a digestive. For the daily supply of drinking water to quench thirst and keep the body from dehydrating, Romans rely on their taps and fountains.

T. Kaori Kitao, 06.16.04

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