April 1998
s m u g
by Bob van Pelt


Eau Gazeuse

When I say "spa," you most likely think: "health farm." When you say "spa," I think "water!"

When I first found out that in English "spa" means health resort, I thought it was funny, though not completely illogical. Spa is the name of a little old town in the Ardennes, a foresty, hilly area in the South of Belgium, with a natural spring as its main attraction. I don't know how it ever got to be so big. Check your Webster's if you don't believe me: "spa: resort with spring; a spring of mineral water; etc., after Spa, in Belgium." Only, it doesn't resolve the mystery that's been nagging me for years: who was it that introduced the word spa as an avant-garde modernism for "health resort" anyway?

Not coincidentally, Spa is the most famous brand of artificially carbonated water in the Benelux, and a consumer good that I simply adore. I was surprised to find that Spa is being exported to the US, though I was a little disappointed to find that they changed the original 1-liter, heavy-duty glass bottle for the (more environmentally correct?) dull plastic variety. Anyway, one of the really odd things about Spa's packaging is the logo. It's a genderless Pierrot-like clown figure balancing itself on the spurting Spa fountain erupting from the bottle's spout. This definitely illustrates the yummy effervescence of the water, but I always wondered about the Pierrot. It's such a symbol of sadness, and what is the relation between water and a sad clown? What are the makers trying to say? Sad people drink more water? Does drinking the stuff make you sad, or is it rather a secret cure for depression?

In Europe, Spa is sold in three colors: Spa blue (pure mineral water), red (carbonated or "with bubbles" as we used to say), and green (with bubbles, lime and sugar, sort of like Sprite and 7-Up). On one of my more recent visits to the motherland, I discovered a new Spa, with a mint green colored label. It was the first Spa Light, which is less carbonated, so it's easier to drink. It also makes for considerably less activity in the stomach, afterwards. In New York City I've only seen blue Spa around, which is a damn shame. I crave the stuff with the red label, 'cause I'm a sucker for seltzer. Man, I am addicted to that stuff! It's an important part of my daily diet, and I grew up on it. Since I can't get red Spa here, I resort to Vintage® Old original Seltzer Water. You've seen it, it comes in a small plastic bottle (1 liter; 33.8 Fl. Oz.), with an uninspiring label, but, hey, the water's great. It's no red Spa, but it's close enough. Besides, it's cheap.

In spite of the fact that it consistently has 0% of anything in the Nutrition Facts box, I like to think that seltzer is good for me. Drinking it feels like I'm cleansing my insides, washing away all the bacteria that are stuck to the inside of my stomach. I know it can't be bad, It's just water and gas. Furthermore, seltzer is also the ultimate non-taste.

Seltzer serves many purposes. It works almost as well as Bayer® Aspirin (talk about another compulsion I grew up with, I eat those like candy, one a day almost religiously), or Alka-Seltzer® (hey!), and it makes for an excellent hangover cure. Forget the Bloody Mary! Too much trouble. A bottle or two of Seltzer on your empty stomach (combined with some aspirin, if necessary) and there you go. Trust me. Also, whenever you feel bloated, heartburn, or when you just ate too fast again: this stuff will cure you. It's an instant burp-activator. I never drink it cold, though. I can't. It's way too harsh on the throat and it's bound to give me instant hiccups. Since I drink a lot of it, during the day as well as at night, I keep my bottles lukewarm, for easier consumption.

I love fizziness without the sugar. That's why I really, really like champagne. Unfortunately I'm not in a position (yet) where I can drink champagne all day long, so here's my non-alcoholic alternative: the Great Grape Spritzer Supreme. Fill a huge glass with ice cubes, 1/3 white grape juice (Welch's® is my choice of preference) and 2/3 Vintage® Old Original Seltzer Water. Squeeze in a whole lime and stir. The ultimate thirst quencher for those dreadfully sticky summer days. (Soon to be: their web site)


write to bob@smug.com

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