Yesterday I was at the Future of StoryTelling festival, which, among fantastic virtual reality experiences and interactive theater, offered roaming creative acts. Which is how I found myself at the POEMS To Order station, ordering a seltzer-themed poem.
Sitting in the field, on this unusually mid-70s warm October day, it was amazing to watch GennaRose create, out of the blue, a seltzer-themed poem.
Within two minute, GennaRose read me the following poem:
Pretty amazing, huh? “Beyond it all, is the call, of the river dreaming up clouds.”
Dreams up your own clouds! Send me your seltzer poems. Tell me what seltzertopia means to you. (Me, I’m working on the first seltzer rap…)
Here’s the full gorgeous text she handed me at the end:
Framed as a “new kind of game show,” Dubner gathers some guest hosts, a funny fact-checker, and then a group of people who know a lot about one thing. I’m one of those people who know a lot about one thing. Can you guess what I spoke about?
We each took turns presenting something the guests, supposedly, don’t know anything about. Questions are asked. Jokes are made. Then at the end one of us is voted the most interesting of the night.
It was super fun to do and everyone there was amazing. It was also incredible to meet Dubner, as at least one chapter in my upcoming book takes its detective approach from Freakonomics.
The entire podcast can be listened to here, and you should listen to it, but I also have a video of just my segment, which you can watch below. Enjoy.
I might not have “won” that night but I know, if you’re reading this, that I will always have your vote.
So, “Where’re we at with Seltzertopia, the book?” you might be wondering.
Well, when I’m not on Facebook fielding press requests from NPR, I’m hard at work with my editor, Dena, trying to find the right structure for the book. What will make Seltzertopia not just original but stand the test of time is how we choose to frame the story of seltzer.
Over my 13 years working on this project I have structured, and restructured, it many many times. In fact, each new book structure drove the work that followed, inspiring the next set of interviews and research and the eventual writing of new chapters. It almost feels like making a sculpture out of marble. I keep wacking at it, then look from afar, then try again.
I think we’re almost there. It’s feeling good. I’ve made something rather complex, but accessible, like the structure of Netflix’s series Dear White People, because the stories are all interwoven. The story of seltzer is about many strands that, overtime, interconnect at different points, around different people or events, and then continue on their own. It would be SO much easier if the story of seltzer was a simple, linear, chronological narrative. But it’s not. Writing it has been so much more fun as a result and, I hope, will be that much more rewarding for you to read as well.
But first we need to nail it down. I think we’re close!
Last week, after my brief but illustrious appearance on NPR’s All Things Considered, I found a lovely message waiting for me on Twitter:
Now, if anyone knows me, they know my seltzer flavor of choice is… none. I make my own, with my old trusty Sodastream, and drink it straight.
On the other hand, who am I to turn down a free offer of seltzer? A few days later, this is the package I opened with my family:
That’s right – seven different flavors in 36 cans. Thank you Sprindrift! There was only one way I could imagine sampling them all – hosting a seltzer tasting party (for my family).
So here’s what we did. I made four columns of 4 Dixie cups each, with the number of their column written on each cup. Then I filled all the cups in a column with the same seltzer. Then I placed the cans in a row at the top (but NOT next to the same flavor).
Then, each member of my family took one cup from each column and, on a piece of paper, recording the number of the cup, their guess of the flavor, and their vote of how much they liked it (1 the worse, 7 the most).
After we each had tasted one from each column, and filled out our sheet, we went from cups 1 to 7, as a group, sharing our flavor guesses and our preferences. (My two favorite flavors I guessed to be Grapefruit followed by Cucumber; and I hated Lemon and Orange Mango).
Then I revealed, one at a time, what the correct flavor was for each cup. Anyone who guessed a flavor received a point. (That was when learned the one I labelled Orange Mango was the Grapefruit, and visa-versa, which meant my favorite one was ACTUALLY Orange Mango after all).
Then I tallied the votes to see which ones we like the most.
As a family, our two favorite are Orange Mango and Lemon. Our two least favorites were Cucumber and Grapefruit.
Personally, however, we had our differences. My son enjoyed the Strawberry, my wife the Blackberry, and I, alone, the Cucumber (which reminds me of the ice cold water in hotel lobbies).
My first choice is still a plain seltzer, but I appreciated Spindrift sending over the cases and now know where to turn next time I am feeling nostalgic for a hotel lobby.
This morning on my Facebook group someone posted the following message. “Hi there, I am a producer for NPRs All Things Considered. Would you be available to chat about All Things Seltzer today? I am working on a piece and would love you have you involved.”
I didn’t see the message until almost 1. I called, he interviewed me, and FOUR HOURS LATER there I was, on NPR, on a show I’ve been listening to for over a quarter century, in this really fun piece that does a good job of nailing the Seltzer Summer of 2017.
Here it is, from the NPR web site, both the full audio and the transcription. Grab a cold glass and enjoy!
Americans are drinking nearly 170 million gallons of the fizzy stuff each year, and sales have gone up 42 percent over the past five years with no signs of slowing down. There’s even a restaurant in Boston offering a $40 flight of limited-edition seltzers.
“We’re now at a point in American history where seltzer is more popular than it’s ever been,” Barry Joseph, author of Seltzertopia, tells All Things Considered. He says today’s obsession with seltzer has its roots in 1971, when Perrier launched in the U.S.
“A new drink comes over from Europe in 1971 called Perrier, and suddenly people aren’t only interested in flat water anymore,” Joseph says. [Note: I should have said 1977! Whoops!]“Now, they like maybe a mineral water. They like the idea of sparkling water, and people rediscover this thing we’ve had around for a while: seltzer.”
Joseph says today people are turning to seltzer as a healthier option than soda. One brand in particular is having a moment among millennials: LaCroix.
Rapper Big Dipper’s YouTube hit “LaCroix Boi” is an ode to the sensual possibilities of seltzer.
I wanted to share fnnch’s recent e-newsletter describing the thinking behind the project.
I half-jokingly refer to these LaCroix paintings as “soup cans for Millennials”. The paintings pay homage to the Warhol works in a few ways, being both the same size (16″ x 20″) and having roughly the same perspective on the cans. There’s a quote from Japanese poet Matsuo Basho that goes “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” I believe that I’m exploring some of the same cultural and aesthetic territories as Warhol did with his soup cans.
There’s a wonderful quote from Warhol that I’m going to paste here in its entirety:
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.
There’s something special going on with LaCroix right now. It’s definitely part of the cultural zeitgeist. I believe that its rise can be credited in large part to the fall of sugar sweetened beverages like Coke, a trend I wholeheartedly support. The billionaires of Silicon Valley do not drink Coke. Movie stars do not drink Coke. But they do drink LaCroix. And you can too. There’s something wonderful about that.
The LaCroix cans were originally conceived in collaboration with a collector looking for an installation in his dining room. When I painted the 9 cans, I knew I had to show them to people, and he graciously permitted me to remove them from the house and display them at The SUB. What is for sale, which for simplicity I put on my website, are further paintings from the series. I am offering a limited edition of 5 paintings for each of the flavors except Pamplemousse, which is from an edition of 20. Each of these will have a unique white-on-white background.
fnnch has certainly put a finger on the cultural zeitgeist of the moment.
It has been around four months since David Behrman, from Behrman House, contacted me with interest in becoming the publisher of Seltzertopia (after a cold call proposal I sent last February), telling me that my “manuscript brought smiles to the faces of our whole Editorial team”. It has been quite a whirlwind ever since.
First I weighed their offer against two others. Then we had to negotiate the terms of the contract. Once all the logistics were out of the way, we were able to get to work. Dena was brought on board, their Executive Editor, and together we developed a schedule – which includes the timeline for when I send them revisions and they send back requests for further revisions, the development of a publicity campaign, the timing for getting rights for photographs, and illustrations, and creating the cover design… and so much more.
And in all that time, working over Skype, we never met in person. Until yesterday.
Taking a day off from work, I drove from NYC into Jersey to step into Behrman House for the first time. Parking in the wrong location, I accidentally entered through an employee entrance, right into the heart of their warehouse (okay, maybe it wasn’t so much of an accident…). Surrounded by wall-to-wall books, boxed and neatly organized on shelving, I was so excited, imagining how, in just a year, on one tiny corner on just one of these many shelves, there will rest Seltzertopia, ready for distribution.
Once inside I met David and Dena for the first time. They were even more sweet in person and couldn’t have been more welcoming. Dena gave me a tour of their offices, meeting all the staff, and returning to the warehouse as well, to learn how it’s run. Then we got down to work.
Over the next four of so hours, we hammered out challenges we all saw with the structure of the book. When should we foreground the human interest story line and when focus instead on seltzer’s history, or the many ways we bring meaning to it? We explored three different options for restructuring the book, and picked the one with the most promise (Now I have my homework).
Over a lovely lunch, we were joined by others on the team and, after answer their general seltzer questions, I introduced this group of non-millenials (myself included) to the cult of La Croix (through the La Croix Boy music video, the La Croix Over Boys t-shirt, and fnnch’s 9 Cans of LaCroix (2017)) and then explored various promotional opportunities. My two favorites so far is a Which Seltzer are You? quiz and a campaign for seltzer-lovers to share photos in response to the prompt: “Where’s do you find your Seltzertopia?” But who know – it’s still early.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted but so pleased to be working with this incredibly talented and thoughtful group of people. They both understand what Seltzertopia currently is and, more importantly, how it can become so much more. Their feedback was always insightful, incisive, and respectful. David often checked in with me to make sure I was comfortable with whatever direction we were taking, which was very kind.
On the way home, in the car, in my head, I wrote an entirely new prologue, to sum up the new frame we want to explore for the book, and now I have to go off and restructure the Table of Contents.
In August, 2010, I spent an afternoon driving around Brooklyn with one of the few remaining seltzer men left in New York City: Eli Miller. It was a remarkable experience. I traveled with Eli as research for Seltzertopia. What I experienced that day became a foundational experience for this project, and an inspiration to keep fighting until I found the book a good home.
I had mixed feelings when I learned that Eli retired a few weeks ago – happy he can finally rest, and happy his route was acquired by Alex Gomberg (the youngest seltzerman in the country), yet sad Eli can no longer do what brought so much meaning, and love, into his life.
To make this transition, here – once again – is an edit of my footage from that day seven years ago, when I met Eli for the first time:
And as a bonus, here’s Eli reading to us the children’s story based on his delivery route:
Tonight I had a blast “competing” on Stephen J. Dubner’s (of Freakonomics Radio) new podcast, Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. With guest host Alex Guarnaschelli, the Food Network personality and chef at Butter, I and four others presented at Symphony Space before a packed house, each sharing something we know on the topic of food. (You get one guess about what I spoke about).
It was a super fun night (and great to be there with my sister as my +1) and I look forward to sharing it with you this fall when they launch their next season. Until then, here are a few photos.
Get ready! In the fall of 2018, Seltzertopia: The Effervescent Age will finally hit the shelves.
After more than a decade and a half of original research, delving into texts both ancient and digital, resources human and imbibed, Seltzertopia covers the more than 200 year history of seltzer manufacturing, by introducing the fascinating but little known historical and contemporary figures who have kept the bubbles flowing and exploring its diverse cultural impact in such areas as personal and global health, comedy, personal identity, and much more.
I wrote it because I love a good story, seltzer’s tale has never been told, and once I learned it I could not let it go.
If you are passionate about seltzer, or hold a general interest in food literature, micro-histories, or maker/DIY culture, this is the book for you (or your loved one).
It’s also just a damn good read.
I am delighted to be working with Behrman House. Nearly a hundred years old, this family run business is in perfect synch with a book that is about maintaining traditions over time through the dedication of mom-and-pop-style business practices.
I can’t thank you enough – the thousands of you who have supported me and this project through email, this blog, the podcast, and on Facebook and Twitter – sending me ideas, providing me feedback, mailing me photos, documents and books, and in general sharing your passion for seltzer.
If you are new here, join our community of Seltzertopia by hooking up with us on Twitter and Facebook.
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