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Three people have asked for postcards. Next obstacle: actually finding any postcards. Wandering around the busy Christmasy areas of centro (downtown) didn't turn anything up.

For the first time in five years I've gone to a museum in La Serena. (Not counting the zoo on my first and later visits, the Japanese garden last visit, or the museums and zoo in Santiago two years ago.) The Museo Arquelogico. Small -- a hallway and 5-6 rooms -- but hey, cheap (600 pesos, under $1.20). If you breeze through you could sneeze and miss it; if you stare at artwork the way I stared at rocks to learn to idenfity diorite and gabbro, it can take a lot longer. Even longer if you try to read the Spanish placards with an inadequate portable dictionary and a smattering of grammar, and type up the missing words to look up later.

Actual content: a handful of fossils (ammonites, oysters, things, extinct American horses, shark tooth, mastodon molar), some replica "escudillas" that looked bowls, tres veces something, I think meaning 3x original size; various stone, wood, and clay tools or art pieces; a mummy; indications of the many indigenous peoples of Chile; an actual Easter Island status and various other things about Easter Island, including a line that I think can be very freely translated as "dude, how did sweet potatoes get here?" And other stuff. The building also bleeds into some other building a hall of monochrome silver art photographs of celebrities -- mostly actors but also Charles De Gaulle -- two of the museum rooms, a few more cases of artifacts in its lobby, and much better bathrooms. I'll probably go back.

Right. I got to rediscover the eccentricity that can be Chilean public bathrooms, starting with the main ones of the museums. The ones with no artificial light or toilet paper or paper towels or I think soap. On exit I discovered a hot air dryer and toilet paper dispenser *outside* the bathroom; I'd forgotten the bizarre custom of having to rip off some toilet paper to take with you into the stall. I have no idea how this makes any practical sense unless dispensers are worth their weight in gold and then some. I would think it would lead to paper waste as people take enough for a worst case shit, or else some unfortunately smelly people. The Santiago zoo took the cake by having a person there dispensing toilet paper to you before you went into the bathroom. Chile has cheap labor compared to the US but not *that* cheap. It might seem like less labor to change one dispenser rather than 1 per stall but OTOH you have to change it more often since everyone's using it.

But that other building? Past the cases and down the stairs I totally randomly found the employee bathrooms or something. No complaint there, totally up to picky US standards.

Unlike a cafe later, where it was "go out the door and up the stairs" to some I don't know theatre or studio bathroom, with minimal lighting and again a toilet paper dispenser outside the stalls, and I think nothing for drying your hands. But Cafe Danes even later had a decent bathroom, along with better food.

I don't know if this should be tagged #firstworldproblems or not. I mean, we're not talking about some really poor country where you squat over a dirt trench because that's what they have (or are traditional Japan.) We're talking places with running water and electricity and solid buildings and hell, toilet paper dispensers. Just deployed in a terrible, "you're doing it wrong", way. But not even consistently so! There's fine Western bathrooms, and then there's bizarro mutant Western bathrooms, as if for a while they thought external dispensers were a good idea and then they got a clue but not everyone's been upgraded yet. (That 'other building' gave every sign of being much newer than the museum.)

I think I've almost figured out the relevant colectivo routes. Haven't taken one yet.

G&S&I went to sushi lunch today. Fairly good, especially the gyoza, some salmon/cheese balls (totally inauthentic, but good) and something both hot and spicy. I realized that with all the love for palta (avocado) California-ish rolls are a totally natural fit here. We had to ask for wasabi and ginger and they didn't even bring the ginger; most Chileans apparently won't touch the stuff. It's a bland food country, apart from pebre and that spicy mystery roll.

S said she graduated from a good LA high school without learning where the school library was. This croggles me. School libraries are among my major memories of both grade and high school; the latter was particularly impressive, almost as large in area as a city branch library, and including microfiche archives of newspapers. It was a major chunk of the most central floor of the school and adjacent to the gym bridge, impossible to miss. We could probably take study hall in there rather than in the cafeterias, though I don't remember.

Chile has public libraries but S usually takes the kids to a private one; better for kids' books at least. I was told there was some recent editorial? bemoaning "Chileans don't read". I certainly haven't run into vast numbers of bookstores or big ones, though today I did see one for kids' books and one for English books... pretty small though, larger than a stall but smaller than what "a hole in the wall" would make me think of for bookstores.

The Plaza de Armas is a cool place to hang out as usual. Even busier now perhaps with all the Christmas stuff. Beyond the benches and people hanging out, two sides are lined with covered stalls, some selling food, some selling jewelry or clothes and such. Mostly I just like the idea of a central public area that people use. Santiago was good at that too. Not necessarily all cities: I haven't seen it, but G tells me the one in Coquimbo is like 1/3 the size of La Serena's, despite being a bigger city, and more like the size of plaza I saw in a rural village last year (which wasn't being used much at the time, but hey, village.)

I popped into a couple of churches. There's the great art of medieval Catholicism... and then there's tacky modern stained glass and tacky plaster statues. I tend to find the latter around here. Nice architecture, though.

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Damien Sullivan

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