Our Daily Water

We moderns are in the habit of carrying our own water with us. There are entire sections for bottled water in the grocery store. Plastic or steel or whatever water bottles are sold everywhere so we can refill them and take them with us to the gym or on a bike trip.
But this was not always so. When I was a girl there were no plastic bottles. If you wanted to carry water with you, you might have a glass bottle or a thermos, heavy and fragile. If you didn’t carry water with you, you might hope to seek out this sort of thing. The picture is of an old water fountain in downtown Portland, Oregon. It doesn’t have to be turned on — the water runs all the time. It is the modern descendant of the old fountains.

This is what water fountains used to look like — a public pond into which you could dip your jar or cup. Note also the grating, so that you can set your bucket under the flow from the tap. The perpetual flow is organized by grim effort and major engineering that may date back to the Romans. Those were people who enjoyed fountains and they built aqueducts so they could have them. And it is thanks to them, starting the process, that we can sit in a kitchen today and turn on a tap to get potable water.

I can’t show you a picture of subfloor heating, which I happen to have under my feet as I type this. But the Romans invented that too, running hot air pipes under their floors. And believe me, this is the way to go! It’s marvelously comfortable and unobtrusive, and should be far more common in the US. Some of the ancient systems really are great!



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Our Daily Water — 4 Comments

  1. I really enjoy your posts – informative and quite interesting! this one caught my attention because I live in Portland, and those fountains are iconic. I guess it’s all in how one defines “modern” – the Benson Bubbler fountains date back to around 1920, but are certainly more modern than the other

    I’m jealous of your warm floors – I have been craving hypocaust heating all winter as my place is mostly laminate flooring which is cold all the time.

  2. The big killer-diller about subfloor heating is, you have to relay your flooring. You can install it in a building that’s already in existence, but it’s far easier to build it in at the very beginning. At least we can use electrical membranes, laid under the planks or the tiles. The Romans had to dig down to create air channels for the heat from a furnace fueled by the slaves.

  3. The vapas — natural spring-fed drinking fountains– saved us when we were exploring Italy during a heat wave. The Romans, despite a lot of cruelty, were terrific engineers.