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Columnist gets 'water'ed down at Berkeley Springs festival

March 05, 2002|BY TIM ROWLAND

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Smack in the middle of the worst drought since 1937 (to pick a year at random), there I sat in the midst of more water than you could count.

It was the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting Festival and about a dozen or so of us were sitting on a dais surrounded by bottles of water, glasses of water, pitchers of water, carafes of water - distributed right, it could have irrigated several local soybean farms.

We were judging water from all over the world to decide which water tasted the best. For water judges, Travel Berkeley Springs had lined up writers from the Associated Press in Morgantown, W.Va., and Washington, D.C., from the Washington Times, the New York Post and USA Today. They had filmmakers and feature writers and Web content editors and after compiling such an impressive panel, I guess they figured the only person they needed to make the list well-balanced and complete was either Forrest Gump or me.

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So we sat up there for a couple of hours sipping water in front of a crowd that numbered as many as 100 people.

Memo to housewives: Do not ever complain to your husbands about how boring baseball is. I can't for the life of me figure out why people would sit in an audience to watch people drink water, but they do.

Worse, they even take pictures of people drinking water. And they heckle, just like at a sporting event. (And no, I didn't have to stop at all on the way home, and no I did not grow a set of gills).

I started to feel pressured. Like I should do something entertaining to make it worth these people's while. At one point I had about 25 glasses of water in front of me, so I took different-sized drinks out of each of them and tried playing a tune with my pencil. But judges are not issued microphones (something Travel Berkeley Springs might want to think about for next year), so it was a failure.

Probably a good thing, because this water deal is taken seriously. As mentioned, there are bottled waters from all around the world, and some of the bottlers, including a nice family from Bosnia, made the trip as well.

Winners of past competitions from around the world had incorporated large golden seals into the labels of their bottles, calling attention to the fact they were Gold Medal Winners of the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting (they could have, but didn't, add "...as judged by a bunch of media flunkies").

The labels on these bottles also include "Stories" and "Mission Statements" behind the water. They proclaim their association with the World Water Rescue Foundation, and they give you a detailed hydrological study telling where the water came from and why that makes it the best.

If that still doesn't sound exotic enough, they write the hydrological study in French, so you have labels proclaiming stuff like "Eau de Sorce de Glacier."

Along with Bosnia, there was water from Scotland, Canada, Tajikistan and New Zealand. Towns from New York to California sent water. It's amazing what a huge deal this has turned into.

Which makes me wonder, if tiny little Travel Berkeley Springs, with few people and little money, can put on such an international shebang, why can't the Hagerstown travel bureau, with all its people and hundreds of thousands of dollars in its budget, put on a similar event? Since it's Hagerstown, we could call it the "International Festival of the Subs," or , no, I've got it: The "First Annual International Bacon Tasting."

There's a match for Hagerstown if ever there was one. Who knows, pretty soon people might be coming here with their pork products from all over the world. Side meat would be elevated to the status of fancy labels, gold stars, mission statements, stories and, of course, slogans written in French:

"Bacon de Sorce de la Oink."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or you can e-mail him at timr@herald-mail.com.

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