Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Water, Cool Clear Water

When I was a boy my father used to sing me cowboy songs. These songs often involved cowboys coming to bad ends: bleeding to death after a shootout or dying of thirst out in the desert. You know: cheery little ditties perfect for pondering as you drift off to sleep. I decided early on that if ever I were to become a cowboy I would carry an extra canteen and a styptic pencil.

The best song was "Cool Water." Like many good cowboy songs, it's sung to a horse. Mirages tempt a cowboy and his trusty beast, Dan, as they trudge through the range: "Old Dan and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water, cool clear water." The listener can't help thinking the pair are going to give up, their bleached bones discovered years later when the interstate is put through or the Sizzler steak house thrown up.

I thought of Old Dan and the cowboy when I saw this story about how restaurants in Britain are being urged to serve tap water, rather than charge for bottled water. (Or, as I'm convinced happened to me the other day, charge for tap water they put into a bottle.)

In a country that puts the "surly" in "service," the restaurateur's disdain for free tap water is what bugs me the most. Ask for nothing and you will receive nothing. Ask for water and you will receive a bottle of water (one pound fifty at the last restaurant I ate in: $3). Ask for tap water and you will be given a withering look of disgust, as if you just wet yourself. In a country almost comically obsessed with "being green" it's strange how people would rather drink water out of little bottles with a big carbon footprint than quaff the liquid that comes out of the pipes.

Well, perhaps this campaign will make a difference. Old Dan and I will do our part and stick to tap water. Either that or cut the top off a cactus and suck the juice out.

Come Don't Fly With Me
Dueling announcements from various governments about making flying "safer" make me consider using a rowboat to next cross the Atlantic. Yesterday the Guardian had a story headlined "Bush Orders Clampdown on Flights to U.S." (Putting "Bush" in the headline is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of Guardian readers.) The European Union is upset at American demands that armed U.S. air marshalls be allowed on flights originating in Europe and that passengers provide detailed information even if they're just overflying the country.

Today's front page news in The Post that European countries may require fingerprinting for U.S. travelers almost sounds like a tit for tat but it's more tat for tit, given that the U.S. already requires fingerprinting and photographing. Treating everyone as a suspect will continue to do wonders for America's standing in the world. Why don't we just tell people we don't really want them to visit?

More Cowboys
Now I have cowboy songs on my brain. "El Paso" by Marty Robbins is a good one. The song about an ill-fated romance with lovely Mexican beauty Felina has that great lyric: "Something is dreadfully wrong for I feel a deep burning pain in my side." (Or, as Marty Robbins sang it, "my siiiiIIIIIiiiiiiiide.") Yes, unnamed protagonist, that means you've been shot.

Then there's one of the saddest songs my father used to sing, "Streets of Laredo." A cowboy--"wrapped in white linen, as cold as the clay"--lays dying in the street. It's a cautionary tale, as the dying hand admits to his misdeeds, tells the passerby to notify his next of kin and even makes his own detailed funeral arrangements.

Cowboys really knew how to live back then and they sure knew how to die.

11 comments:

Henry said...

Spot-on about the water in restaurants, John. And it was very restrained of you not to mention that when the surly waiter DOES finally bring you a glass of "tapolade" - acting like you'd asked for a complementary bottle of vintage Bollinger - he brings it to you warm, in a tiny, tiny little shot-glass.
You'd think we could be more generous with the stuff considering how often it rains so hard the entire country floods.

Henry said...

Spot-on about the water in restaurants, John. And it was very restrained of you not to mention that when the surly waiter DOES finally bring you a glass of "tapolade" - acting like you'd asked for a complementary bottle of vintage Bollinger - he brings it to you warm, in a tiny, tiny little shot-glass.
You'd think we could be more generous with the stuff considering how often it rains so hard the entire country floods.

Old Lady said...

Hate to criticize my favorite blogger, but as a journalist you need to know that the cowboy lies dying the street (past tense: the cowboy lay dying in the street)....no eggs produced.

mark from alexandria said...

The cowboy songs are all well and good, but lets not forget the other side of that equation, the songs about Native Americans-"Running Bear" (On the banks of the river, stood Running Bear, young Indian Brave..." and "Cherokee People," (Cherokee people, Cherokee Tribe, so proud to live, so proud to die..." come to mind. Then, of course, we would be remiss, not to mention "Conquistador," which reminds us of the downside of colonialism ("...although you came with sword held high, you did not conquer, only die...")

Candadai Tirumalai said...

A few years ago the presence of lead in tap water was a concern in Washington D.C. and the sales of mineral water soared. I am not sure that the problem has been entirely resolved.
The confusion between "lie" and "lay" is catching. I agree with "old lady."

mark from alexandria said...

rest, recline, remain-
lie, lay, lain is how they taught it back in the day.

Ed Rorie said...

I remember fondly the Smothers Brothers' version of Laredo:

As I walked out on the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen
Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay.

I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy;
I see by your outfit you are a cowboy, too;
We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys.
If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too.

William said...

As to the Laredo lyrics spoof - I thought that was an Alan Sherman riff (he of "Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda, Here I am at, Camp Granada")

mark, not from alexandria said...

I too, remember Laredo as sung by the Smothers Brothers.

Indeed, they were our introduction to much of American folk music, both serious and silly.

William said...

I was thinking of the Sherman parody "As I Wandered Out on the Streets of
Miami", where he runs into his old friend, a tailor named Sammy. I recall the lines about "I see by your outfit . . . " as being a part of the lyrics in Sherman's version, but I could be mixing two versions. Mists of time and all that.

John Kelly said...

I loved the Smothers Brothers. They're part of my '70s memories, along with those Peggy Fleming specials from--where was it? Sun Valley, Idaho?

Old Lady, you see what life without a copy editor has done to me.

Henry, yes, I was kind. Perhaps the British are naturally hydrated, having been brought up in the rain. That might explain the ampules of water they bring out. But I've learned to drink my liquids cold, just so long as they're wet.