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

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