Henry Graham Greene (1904-1991) Credit:  Wikipedia Encyclopedia

The name Graham Greene had been dormant in a foggy area of my brain for a prolonged time, until it was brought back to the surface by Linda, an exquisite blogger from Texas.  In one of her blog posts she mentioned that she had stayed in a hotel where Graham Greene had slept during his sojourns to West Africa.  Greene has been an intrepid traveller all of his life, thus every time he visits he is trying to see as much of the country as possible. Greene first left Europe at the early age of 30 in 1935 on a trip to Liberia that produced the travel book, Journey Without Maps.

Throughout his life, Greene travelled far from England, to what he called the world’s wild and remote places. The travels led to his being recruited into MI6 by his sister, Elisabeth, who worked for the organisation; and he was posted to Sierra Leone during the Second World War. Kim Philby, who would later be revealed as a Soviet agent, was Greene’s supervisor and friend at MI6.

Graham Greene  was an English novelist and author regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.  Through 67 years of writings which included over 25 novels, he explored the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world through a Catholic perspective.

Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair which are regarded as “the gold standard” of the Catholic novel. Several works such as The Confidential Agent, The Third Man, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana and The Human Factor also show an avid interest in the workings of international politics and espionage.  At this moment I’m reading his comedy-novel, Our Man in Havana about international espionage in Cuba.

After reading Linda’s blog post, I remembered that Graham Greene had visited Panama at the unsolicited invitation of Brigadier General Omar Torrijos Herrera to visit Panama in 1976.  The motive for that invitation was never made explicit, but clearly Torrijos was aware of Greene’s stature as a writer, and presumably he believed Greene would provide him a favorable representation in the world press.  He immediately accepted the unexpected  invitation knowing only of Panama from the exploits of the pirate Henry Morgan and the mysterious death of Sir Francis Drake in the area. In the process he becomes an intimate friend of the ruler and his fascinating friend/body guard-Chuchu, a former professor, soldier, pilot, and Lothario with scores of ex-lovers and children. He will visit the country five times between 1976 and 1983.

Omar Torrijos Herrera (1929-1981). Credit: Coclesito.es.tl.com

During a time frame of seven years, a warm relationship grew between the writer and the military-political dictator of Panama.  Usually they stayed at Torrijos’ beach house at the village of Farallón near the Pacific Ocean seaside.  They stayed late at night talking about the political situation in Latin America and the different insurrection movements in Central America—specially in Nicaragua.  Friendly women and Scotch whiskey blended smoothly with their wee-hours-tête-à-têtes.  It was an open secret that Torrijos was a womanizer and liked to be near a bottle of good whiskey.  Greene was also fond of good liquor and ladies of the night.

For a dictator – he seized power in 1968 and continued to dominate Panama until his death—Torrijos exuded a surprising vulnerability. Shy, even gauche, on social occasions, he preferred the company of women. He suffered from insomnia and would frequently drink heavily in search of sleep. He hated giving press interviews and would seem pained when speaking in public. He was also sentimental, feeling empathy for the rural poor and tolerating his critics almost paternalistically. But above all, Torrijos was a private person, revealing himself – and his ”manic” sense of humor—only to a handful of people he came to trust. Two of these were novelists—Gabriel Garcia Márquez, the Colombian Nobel laureate, and Graham Greene.

In his book, Our Man in Havana, Greene describes the following scene in which two of the novel’s characters meet in a bar.  “When they met in Sloppy Joe’s bar, Hawthorne surveys the range of bottles on offer and says:”

‘Eighteen different kinds of Scotch…including Black Label.  And I haven’t counted the Bourbons.  It’s a wonderful sight.  Wonderful’ he repeated, lowering his voice with respect.  ‘Have you ever seen so many whiskies?’

‘As a matter of fact I have.  I collect miniatures and I have ninety-nine at home’.

As a result of Greene’s intimate friendship with Torrijos, he decided to write a book about their involvement.  The name of the book is, “Getting to Know the General:  The Story of an Involvement”.  The beginning of the book is rife with tension as the General negotiates a treaty for the handing over of the Panama Canal with then President Jimmy Carter. From there the politics of South America and Central America have a routine background role in the story as it was a time of dictators and revolts in Latin America—many of them with unwanted intervention by the U.S. through the CIA and other means.

Credit: goodreads.com

In August 1981, while he was packing for his fifth trip, he received word at his home in Antibes, France, that Torrijos had died in a plane crash. ”I have never lost as good a friend as Omar Torrijos,” Greene notes of a man whom, he recalls unabashedly, ”I had grown to love.”  The book he wrote is a tribute to that friendship. It records Greene’s four trips to Panama to visit the general and his return in January 1983 to keep alive his own—and Panama’s—memories of Torrijos.

Even after the General dies, Greene makes one last visit to Panama at the behest of Chuchu and the new administration. The later part of the book becomes more focused on the politics of the region and bears some resemblance to Salaman Rushdie’s book about Nicaragua at a similar time, The Jaguar’s Smile.  Many literary critics claim that Greene is a better writer than Rushdie and the cast of real life characters who populate the book are larger than life as well: Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, every Latin America leader of state from the time period including Fidel Castro and the soon to be infamous General Manuel Noriega, Arthur Koestler, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

What starts out as a somewhat fragmentary memoir ends up being not only a deeply humane portrait of a political and military leader who in many ways typifies Latin American politics, but an insightful overview of the Central American (even more broadly Latin American) political context in the late 1970s and early ’80s.  During this period the so called Cold War was getting white hot.

While the Panama Canal Treaty negotiations form the centerpiece of the first half of the book, the second half focuses on Panama’s support, under Torrijos, of left-wing forces elsewhere in Central America, including the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Here the friendship Greene developed with Torrijos, broadens into a political sympathy for those leftist groups, and in fact Greene finds himself drawn personally into fascinating intrigues, finding himself such as acting as an intermediary in separate hostage crises involving kidnappings of a South African diplomat and employees of a British bank by left-wing Salvadorean guerillas. Later, Greene is visited in France by Central American guerrilla leaders en route to Italy, searching for financial support for their cause–they believe Greene, a famous author, might put them in contact with rich sympathizers.

Graham Greene is dead and so is General Omar Torrijos Herrera.  Some historians will claim they were flawed men; others will argue that they were extraordinary men, one a writer, the latter a political leader.  I will conclude that in the real world nothing is totally white nor black.  In between there is an infinite spectrum of gray.  Absolute perfection in my humble opinion is a mere literary illusion.  Good Day.

Recently I received an e-mail from a blogger friend containing valuable information about the evolution of the English language.  He knows how much I enjoy digging in into the depths of this fascinating language which roots date back to the year 200 BC

One of the findings that really caught my attention is how several English words changed their meaning over time to become the opposite of their original usage.  Some of these words are:

  1. Nice
  2. Silly
  3. Awful
  4. Fizzle
  5. Wench
  6. Fathom
  7. Clue
  8. Myriad
  9. Naughty
  10. Eerie
  11. Spinster
  12. Bachelor
  13. Flint
  14. Guy
  15. Hussy
  16. Egregious
  17. Quell
  18. Divest
  19. Senile
  20. Meat

Words change meaning over time in ways that might surprise you. We sometimes notice words changing meaning under our noses (e.g., unique coming to mean “very unusual” rather than “one of a kind”—and it can be disconcerting. How in the world are we all going to communicate effectively if we allow words to shift in meaning like that?

Words have changed meaning—sometimes radically—as long as there have been words and speakers to speak them. It is most likely that you were not aware that all the above words is just a small sampling of words you may not have realized didn’t always mean what they mean today.

Take for instance the word “awful”.  A good dictionary worth its salt like the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, would define the word as, “very bad or unpleasant or extremely disagreeable or objectionable“.  The first known  use of awful is 1818.  Examples:

  • They heard the most awful sounds.
  • Awful things began to happen.
  • He has some awful disease.
  • That joke is just awful.
  • Who painted the house that awful color?

However, this negative definition of the word awful had a completely opposite meaning prior to the late 18th century.  Many grammarians take issue with the senses of awful and awfully that do not convey the etymological connection with awe.  The original definition of awful was:  “inspiring awe, filled with awe, or deeply respectful or reverential.  Awful things used to be “worthy of awe” for a variety of reasons, which is how we get expressions like “the awful majesty of God.”  Not today.  Over the years the meaning of the word swayed dramatically to mean quite the opposite.  The same linguistic phenomenon happened to other English words as you will find out in a moment if you finish reading this blog post.

I urge you to read a contribution made by language historian, Anne Curzan, dubbed, “20 Words That Once Meant Something Very Different”.  I’m sure you will find this information, very different from what you learned in your English class at school.

The cherry on the pie about this matter, is a TED presentation made by Anne Curzan which I’m sure will raise a few eyebrows.  The title of her oral presentation is “What Makes a Word ‘Real’ ? “.   Here we go.

One of the main problems I have with my gadgets is that the battery drainage is terrible.  This is constantly happening with my iPad, cameras, cellphone and laptop.  Even though I often replace the batteries in an effort to avoid charging them frequently, the problem persist.  Nothing bothers me so much as running out of batteries while in the middle of a shooting spree.  Thus I always have several spare AA batteries to be on the safe side.  But it still is a pain in the neck to deal with this irritating inconvenience.

Credit: Inhabitat.com – Kristine Lofgren

Recently while scanning the Web, I found out that good news were on the way to solve the battery drainage problem.  “New batteries charge to 70 percent in two minutes and last twenty times longer.”

“We use rechargeable batteries for practically everything these day— from our toothbrushes to our cars—but when a battery runs down, it can put a damper on our daily routine. Now imagine that instead of waiting an hour for your phone to charge up, you only had to wait two minutes – and that the same quick-charging battery can last 20 years. That battery will soon be a reality thanks to a team of researchers who developed a lithium-ion battery that can charge 70 percent in just two minutes and lasts 20 times longer than a battery today.”

“A battery that efficient could charge a car in as little as 15 minutes and wouldn’t have to be replaced as often. Instead of spending 5 minutes filling up on gas, a car could spend 5 minutes getting enough juice to dramatically extend its range. If it sounds too good to be true, the researchers say that they expect to have the battery on the market in just two years.”

“The technology isn’t entire new, which is part of the reason the battery seems like it could really happen in the next few years. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the researchers just built on existing technology, using titanium oxide gel – the same stuff in your sunscreen. The gel actually helps speed up the charging process, making the battery last 20-times longer and charge 20-times as fast than traditional lithium-ion batteries.”

This super battery was developed by scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore). The technology is currently being licensed to an undisclosed  company and the NTU scientists expects that the new generation of fast-charging batteries will hit the market in two years’ time. It holds a lot of potential in overcoming the longstanding power issues related to electro-mobility.

This technological breakthrough holds a lot of potential in overcoming the longstanding power issues related to electro-mobility.  Once these fast-charging, long-lasting batteries make their way into things like cameras and cellphones it will be a gamechanger for the electro-mobility industry.  I’m so excited to be alive in this day and age when the line between reality and science-fiction is becoming more and more blurred.  Good Day.

As I continue to travel through the paths of the fascinating field of photography, I’m discovering new areas I wish to explore more.  Some of these areas of interest are:  street photography, macro photography, seascape photography, landscape photography and portraitures.  As you can see, photography is never-ending universe in itself.

Lately I’ve read about the different techniques of macro photography.  Capturing creatures or objects so small that you can barely see them with your naked eye is something I definitely would like to dip my toes into.  As a matter of fact, I’m ordering from Amazon today several photography accessories to enhance my macro shots:

  • Neewer 48 macro LED ring flash light
  • Vivitar 52mm close up macro filters (+1, +2, +4, and +10)

These items will help me out to shoot better macro pictures without spending a bundle.  When the time is ripe, I’ll probably go for the real thing:  a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro USM lens which can be had for about $599.00.  But that will take a while.  For the time being, the mentioned accessories will do just fine.

Below are a couple of shots of lilliputian white and yellow flowers discovered in our back yard.  The macro pictures were taken with a DSLR Canon EOS Rebel T2i and a “nifty-fifty” lens (e.g., EF 50mm f/1.8 II).  It was a very bright day with lots of light, so I installed a Hoya polarizing filter to avoid blowing out the shots.  Take a look at the cute miniscule flowers.  This is what I plan to do more in the future when my order arrives.

(Please click image to expand.) Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

This was the closest I could get to the flowers. With the proper accessories I can get a lot closer, and that is what I really want. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

Apple is polishing its products for the upcoming Christmas holidays, when the cacophony of cash registers’ high-frequency rings saturate the festive atmosphere.  As we all know, Christmas is more about making a profit than about the birth of the Son of God.  Black Friday is The Day to cough out our hard-earned dollars.

On Thursday, October 16, 2014, Tim Cook and his elves announced a new Air iPad 2, iPad Mini 3 and an iMac desktop computer.  There were no revolutionary new products except the iWatch which will hit the shelves early next year.  All were incremental changes to its existing stocks of Apple products.

Apple Inc introduced a faster, slimmer iPad Air 2 on Thursday, tacking on modest improvements such as a fingerprint sensor to its mainstay tablet in time for what is expected to be a hotly contested holiday season for mobile devices.

Pre-orders start Friday for the larger iPad Air 2, priced at $499 and up, with shipping beginning next week. The smaller iPad mini 3 will be about $100 cheaper.  The Air iPad 2 is thinner than the previous Air Pad—18 percent thinner.  It is only 6.1 mm deep and 56 percent less reflective.  Even though its sales have slipped, it’s still a solid cash cow for Apple.  Tim Cook announced Apple had sold 225 millon iPads and enjoyed the staggering number of 675,000 apps.  The new iPad will have the new A84 processor which has a 40 percent faster CPU, an enhanced camera with 8MP and a lens with an aperture of f/2.4.  Battery life will continue to be 10 hours which is quite decent, considering the power of the CPU.

Marketing chief Phil Schiller, calling the larger tablet the world’s slimmest, described several new features such as an anti-reflective screen and confirmed the inclusion of the “Touch ID” sensor, already available on the latest iPhones.

Apple may struggle, however, to arouse the same passion for tablets as in past years, among consumers faced with an abundance of hand-held, touch-screen devices.  Tablet sales are set to rise only 11 percent this year, according to tech research firm Gartner, compared to 55 percent last year, even as smartphone sales continue to soar and personal computer sales are waning.

Tablet sales for Apple, which defined the category with the iPad just four years ago, have fallen for two straight quarters. Investors remain focused on the iPhone, Apple’s main revenue generator, but a prolonged downturn in iPad sales would threaten about 15 percent of the company’s revenue. The new iPads will go up against recently introduced tablets from Amazon.com Inc and Google Inc in coming months.

The new prices for the slimmer Air iPad 2 are as follows:

  • 16GB – $499.00
  • 64GB – $599.00
  • 128GB – $699.00

The new prices for the faster iPad Mini 3 are as follows:

  • 16GB – $399.00
  • 64GB – $499.00
  • 128GB – $599.00

Pre-orders started on October 17th and shipments will begin at the end of next week.  The desktop category wasn’t forgotten.  If you are into photography, the iMac is for you.  The new Retina 5K Display is nothing less than spectacular.  Inside you will find a screen made by LG Display, and a setup similar to previous iMacs, including easily-accessed RAM slots for memory upgrades. Overall, the layout is almost exactly like last year’s 27″ iMac, plus that new display controller Apple bragged about and a slightly wider display data cable, enhanced to feed all those pixels.

The entry-level iMac with top-of-the-line 5K display sets any buyer back by $2,499. That price includes the entire computer, which comes with a 3.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor and AMD’s Radeon R9 M290x graphics processing unit. This is the same graphics card used in gaming-focused computers such as the Alienware I7 and, as Apple says, is 45 percent faster than the Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics cards that powered its older iMacs. The low-end iMac will also get 8GB of RAM and 1TB of Apple’s Fusion drive, or a hybrid flash storage and hard-disk drive.

Everybody might have waited for new iPads at Apple’s media event on Thursday; however, while Apple unveiled the new iPad Air 2, it was kind of a disappointment to anyone who was expecting a blockbuster announcement. I have a nice Retina Display iPad which I use sparsely.  Don’t plan to buy a new one anytime soon, so Apple’s announcement meant nothing to me.  But I’ll bet people will line up to get their paws on the latest tablets next week.  That’s the way things are in a consumers’ capitalist free market.  Good Day.

Glass and Grapes

Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

The first two pictures were taken with a Canon DSLR EOS T2i camera, and the third one was shot with a compact P&S Canon PowerShot A720 IS.  As you can see the quality of all three pictures is almost the same.  That speaks highly of today’s cameras.  You don’t have to pay a bundle to take good pictures.  An inexpensive P&S camera will do just fine.  Now, if you have deep pockets, then go ahead and buy the state-of-art gear, but remember that it’s not the gear that takes a good picture—it’s the person behind the camera.  Good Day.

For many years I’ve enjoyed the regular visits, comments and support of a loyal reader living in Fort Worth, Texas.  He knows who he is.  Recently he had a relative visiting his family from Panama, and on the way back, she brought back a surprise from my loyal reader.  The surprise was a wonderful reference book dubbed, “Webster’s New World American Idioms Handbook”.  It is the most comprehensive reference for understanding and applying American idioms.

If you are studying English as your second language, you already know that the real key to mastering any language, beyond having a good grasp of grammar and vocabulary is knowing how to use idioms and idiomatic expressions.  The difficulty lies in the fact that the wording of the idiom doesn’t has anything to do with its meaning.  You have to know the meaning and the context in which they are used.  There are different idioms in different parts of the United States.  If you haven’t lived in the country, the learning curve can be really steep and nightmarish.  Been there.  Done that.

After returning home, I started leafing through the book and found it to be a linguistic treasure, perfect to place it under our Christmas tree in December.  I’m so happy with this present, that I’m walking two feet off the ground.

The above idiom is used to express a state of mind of being very happy, blissfully happy, ecstatic.  Almost all the idioms that express great happiness and joy allude to being off the ground, up in the air.  You may also hear people say “walking 6 to 10 feet off the ground instead of just two feet”.

Thank  you Jim and Nena for this magnificent gift which I will put to work even as we speak.  The earlier idiom was extracted from the aforementioned book.  I also want to thank María de los Ángeles for meeting me in Panama City and delivering the idiomatic surprise.  I couldn’t resist the temptation of taking her picture and capturing the event.  This is the person who provided the transportation of the reference book to Panama.  Here we go.


Snapshot of María de los Angeles, posing for the camera at the entrance of El 99 Supermarket in the neighborhood of San Francisco de la Caleta in Panama City, Panama. I’m sure my English will enter into a new era. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.



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