Thursday, September 24, 2015


MARCH 21 – MARCH 29, 2015


Sponsored by the award-winning commercial design specialists of NM Interiors Group at

Let me put this as delicately as I can. Once you get to Santiago, Chile, you go in style.

Quite simply, this bathroom at the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino was one of the high points of my eight-day visit to Santiago. The design concept is simple. Small, cobalt blue tiles.

They’re easy to clean. Durable. Delightful. A joy to look at. It seemed akin to a discrete, cool and quiet mini-throne room sans simpering courtiers and ormolu. That’s my long-winded synonym for “(en)joy.”

Conceptually, the blue tiles seemed a perfect complement to the beautiful and marvelous antiquities we inspected there. But more about the antiquities, later. After a bathroom break.

Moving on. Actually, for the length our stay in Chili, the only bathroom that wasn't lovely - I do use that word advisedly - or spotless was at the airport. And, honestly, I've seen lots worse in Phoenix, Arizona (my home city) and elsewhere.

No, I didn't take photos of all the bathrooms I visited in Santiago. I wish I had. But here are a few from the Parque Arauco mall, not far from our hotel. 

Does this look like “Third World” living to you? 

No, this is not a “pay for use” bathroom. This is a public men’s bathroom, around 6:30 PM, in a very active mall.

The walls are ceramic – a simulated wood pattern. The faucet is photoelectric.

The mirrors are spotless. 

Take a quick peek inside (See below. By the way, the man with his back to the camera is drying his hands.) 

Note the range of textures. The sandblasted glass toilet doors. The playful surface of the ceramic wall opposite. Offset by a highly varnished solid bench. 

The variety of textures adds impact to the overall sensuality of the space. 

It’s clean. So clean. 

But what really blew me away so was simple, I could not believe I had never encountered it anywhere in the US.

Look at this. As you leave the bathroom, you can report on your experience via this build-in touch screen.

Here’s my rough translation.( I don’t by the way, speak Spanish.)

“Your opinion interests us. Evaluate the quality of our bathrooms.”

I traveled 8000 miles from Phoenix to Santiago to discover something so useful, so obvious, it really shocked me. 

Bathroom break!

Ok, stop muttering. I can hear you. The fact that the bathrooms of Santiago made my stay doesn't mean – not by any stretch of the imagination – that the rest of the city was a dump.

No. Not. Uh, uh. Decidedly, absolutely wrong.

Before we stroll outside, spend a few moments inspecting the collection of the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. The building’s interior architecture would readily earn plaudits were it located in North America or Europe. Never mind that the exterior dates to the turn of the preceding century. (The architect was the Chilean, Smiljan Radic.) 

The artifacts are equally impressive. Frankly, this was the most interesting museum, in my opinion, in Santiago.

The wooden figures (“Chemamüll” = wood people) seen in the subterranean gallery shown here are about 1.5 to 2 times life size. They’re grave markers made by the Mapuche people. I’m not sure how old they are. Apparently, the Spanish invaders burned many of these grave markers as idolatrous. 

On the other hand, it seems that the Mapuche people managed to retain their cultural identity and lands (!) in the south of Chile, by fighting the invaders and descendants in war of attrition (the Arauco war) that, according to one source, lasted approximately 300 years.

My references indicate that the courage, intelligence and resilience of the Mapuche are recognized and honored in Chile today. I’m guessing that the Mapuche are the Chilean counterparts of the Apache tribes of the USA. 

These artifacts were selected at random from the exhibition halls and don’t necessarily reflect the style of the Mapuche, or any other single indigenous group. The museum displays artifacts from a wide range of regional cultures that pre-dated the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.

One of the many questions I was left with after touring this museum had to do with the extensive collection of elaborate, and to my mind, highly creative, figurative ceramic jars on display. What was stored in these jars? 

Their complexity and creativity suggests a considerable investment in time and skill. These aren't, by any stretch of my imagination, “primitive” pieces. In fact, the quality of work is frequently highly reminiscent of the equally marvelous modern and contemporary ceramic collection housed in the Ceramics Research Center of Arizona State University. (That collection ought to be the topic of yet another blog post. Whether it will be remains to be seen.) 

 Whatever was stored in them, they wouldn't have been easy to clean. The spouts are invariably quite small.

Were they, perhaps, funerary urns? But then, why place ashes of a loved or respected community member in a snake? Or a cat? If you know – or simply want to hazard a guess – please post a comment to the blog clarifying this question for me and any other parties interested. 

In any case, I found them memorably lovely. And highly accomplished. 

The two figures in the middle certainly represent a warrior and captive. 

Oh, then there’s this athlete, whose realistic depiction I found compelling. Another very similar piece on the Internet is described as “Ballplayer with helmet, Remojadas, Veracruz, Mexico.”  The figure shown here probably has a standing height of about three feet.

It’s my guess that even before the advent of horses, buses, trains and TV, popular sports – and sports figures – likely traveled widely.  

Is the museum being to feel a bit “close?” Want to step outside, catch some fresh air and stretch your mind?

Me, too. 

For a city subject to frequent and often devastating earthquakes, Santiago has an awful lot of really intriguing architecture. In fact, architecturally speaking, I found Santiago far more intriguing than Phoenix.

And yet, both cities have much in common. Both are surrounded by mountains. Both are capitols. Santiago is the capitol of Chile. Phoenix, my home, is the capitol of Arizona. Europeans arrived for the first time in Chile and Arizona at roughly the same time, 1539 and 1550. Both have semi-arid climates. Copper, in particular, has played a highly significant role in the development of the economies of Chile and Arizona, with considerable impact on their respective populations.

 What is Santiago like?

Figure 1 View from hotel window. Las Condes District.

It’s like Phoenix, only more so. The highest mountains near Santiago range around 21,000 feet high. The population of Santiago is approximately 7 million souls. 

The population of metro Phoenix (including Maricopa and Pinal counties) is estimated at 4.5 million. Santiago has the fourth largest subway system in North and South America with 64 miles of active lines and 108 stations. Phoenix’s light rail system has 20 miles of active lines with 28 stations.

Like Phoenix, Santiago–indeed all of Chile– has water issues. Torrential floods clobbered northern portion of Chile, one of the driest areas of the entire world, while we were there. Clobbered is not an exaggeration. 

According to Reuters, Chile's President Michelle Bachelet says it will cost at least $1.5 billion to repair the damages…” (

Santiago was unaffected.

The elected president 
of Chile is a woman,
 Michelle Bachelet.  

You can see the correspondence to Arizona, right? After all, Arizona is the only state in the union to have had four female governors, three of whom served consecutively.

You’ve read enough. More than enough already. The rest of the story is told in pictures.

This is Santiago, Chile, also home to the highest skyscraper in S. America (shown above… but not specifically identified).

As far as I can tell, Chileans are VERY proud of their country and...

presumably,  its progress. We took a day-tour outside the city to Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. Those two cities sit on the Pacific Ocean just an hour and a half to the west.  

Since this post is specifically about Santiago, I won’t discuss them. But what really struck me was the way our tour guide constantly, and with the utmost pride, kept referring, in English, “to my country.” 

You might have thought she owned it, all of it.

While in Santiago, we twice encountered a taxi driver whose English was quite good. Not a young man, but then again not as old as I am, either.

He was, I must say, one of the better informed taxi drivers I’ve ever encountered. Among other things, he had plenty to say – all positive, as I recall – about the “neo-liberal” economic policies of Chile. The policies that, he thought, had brought the Santiago we saw, into being.


Posted on April 15, 2015. By Glenn S. Michaels


Published April 2015

Sponsored by the award-winning commercial design specialists of NM Interiors Group at

Blissed out


It has such marvelous properties. It can mitigate depression, increase attention span, stimulate or relax, and induce a meditative state. Urban color in particular – the colors cultivated in an urban landscape – can be equal parts soothing and stimulating, simultaneously.

Urban color allows us to look away, to relax.

It lives in a variegated color environment filled with warm and cool, brilliant and neutral. While it can be intensely brilliant, it is rarely monotonous, uniformly cacophonous or claustrophobia-inducing, the way the colors in an indoor mall can be.

Color is generally non-toxic (in metro Phoenix) and has zero calories as long as you don’t eat it or cover yourself with the wrong form of it.

Best advice: Don’t ingest cadmium- or lead-based paints. Don’t apply them to body parts, either.

Bad news: "'Particles of any kind, even much smaller than the wavelength of visible light, will, as a rule, make the sky brighter but at the expense of its purity of color,' [Craig] Bohren [professor emeritus of meteorology, Pennsylvania State University] says, noting that the effect is more pronounced when there is a high concentration of large aerosols. So, although aerosols may make a sunset red, excess pollution will also dampen the overall sunset experience."

(Fact or Fiction? Smog creates Beautiful Sunsets. By Coco Ballantyne July 12, 2007.)

Then, too, not all that is colorful is, strictly speaking, color. Good design – whatever that may be – is a form of color. Texture, too, can be colorful and beautiful.

Light, itself, is colorful. Still, the flat, harsh light of the desert environment in the middle of the day can also be cruel to ambient color. Such flat – often blinding light – overwhelms the eye’s ability to distinguish nuances. Shade and shadows are erased. Mid-tones evaporate.

Colors fry.

Personally, I prefer to take my color much the way I take my very occasional drinks.  No jiggers or anything straight up for me. I’ll order a blended concoction every time… aside from root beer.

Put another way, I respect Mark Rothko and Yves Klein. Still, I’d rather hang (around) a Jackson Pollack. 

But I digress when I had intended to ramble. Mea culpa.
So. Following a very long, un-fun Saturday, I rose early and went for a run through nearby historic Phoenix, Arizona, neighborhoods. The temperature was excellent for this, maybe 60F. 

My path was unpremeditated, alternating between straight shots up and down Culver, Willetta and serpentine, “how did I get here” stretches, south of McDowell Avenue and west of 7th Avenue. 

After two hours or so, I was high.

Totally blissed out. On color.

It lasted the rest of the day.  The riot of fantastic colors and neat homes, wrapped in crisp air and covered with cloud sprinkled blue sky somehow dilated my consciousness. 

“Terrificness” seemed to surround me.

I’m not sure, but I think I had a very Zen day. 

(Kōan: Why is color like the Buddha? Student: It lives everywhere, infuses everything, and pays the attentive at no expense to the careless.)

At some point, it occurred to me that almost any structure looked better – more interesting, more inviting, with foliage and flowers, with color, than its blander neighbors. Take a simple shape, dress it in color, and like magic, it was a joy to behold.

Actually, it struck me that each of these lovely micro-environments was itself a sort of flower. A momentary monument to the joy of color, of light and of design.

I’m afraid that I looked more than a little suspicious to the neighborhood folks who paid any attention to me. 

After my run, I had come home, grabbed my camera and drove back down the streets that most impressed me.

Dressed in paint-spattered and smudged tee-shirt and shorts, wearing heavy boots, a “camera” bag slung over my shoulder with an open bottle sticking out – it was root beer – while walking from house to house taking photographs just seemed to arouse latent suspicions.

Go figure.

Asked by one lady why I was photographing her house, all I could say was “It’s so lovely.” When I eventually returned to my parked car, a vibrant yellow Toyota Matrix passed down by my spouse (now badly bruised and missing a fender), one of the neighbors stopped a van behind my car so that I couldn't pull out. I sat and waited. I imagine the van’s driver or passenger noted my license plate number… just in case.

I might have done the same. Vigilance is wise where burglary and breaking and entering are fairly common.

My original impulse to simply capture the beauty I had seen became an urge to share it. I hope that my delight in delicious spring and the blended joy of the neighbors’ individual experiments with color, architecture and design is at least slightly contagious.

A few more snapshots of neighborhood urban color follow, just for the joy of it.

The author of this post - gsmichaels - has resided in metro Phoenix since 1982; grew up in the rustbelt; and studied abroad. He has lived in the same historic district house, located in urban Phoenix, Arizona, for 17 years. His spouse is an ASID designer. His mother was an ISID designer. He has always earned a living as a writer of one type or another… but has never published a book. His Bachelor’s degree is in Creative Writing: Poetry. His dream vocation is fine artist. But, as it happens, he is fond of regular meals and aspires to retain both ears for the length of his days.

The author explains that he experiences his blog posts as form of manual labor with mood enhancing qualities and useful mental exercise. 

All errors and omissions are the sole responsibility of the author.

Your corrections and comments are welcome.