“At about this point, Briles O & # 39; Shaughnessy filmed Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s partner.” So says a plaque on a building at the corner of Burritt Alley and Bush Street in downtown San Francisco. This is a cozy apartment block in a cul-de-sac – not exactly a place to kill, but of course, this murder only happened on the pages of Dashiel Hammett’s “The Falcon of Malta.”
As I discover as I stroll around Sam Spade, the San Franciscans gladly pretend that Sam and this colorful crew of Falcon hunters, the mysterious Miss Wonderly, fat little Joel Cairo and the reassuringly ingenious Gutman all really traveled the city blocks around Union Square in search of a great black bird .
This conversion takes some effort because Dashiell Hammett has not been given a complex scene. A more detailed description in the Falcon of Malta consists of one sentence: Spade received a call talking about Miles’s murder; calling the yellow cab phone company. The taxi lowers him “to where Bush Street was roofing Stockton before sliding downhill to Chinatown.”
San Francisco of San Francisco ignores everything that postcards and those songs and travelers, including myself, associate with the city. “Small cable cars don’t climb halfway to the stars” or anywhere else in Sam Spade’s world. There is almost no sense of the hills that even walking the breakfast block can turn into a calf-hike. Stockton’s “cover” of Bush Street only hints at the way this city climbs and lowers Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill – three heights that separate Sam Spade from the blue ocean, the orange bridge and the beautiful bay that never seems to be seen.
all-inclusive vacation packages with airfareAs I walk the world of Sam Spade I realize how small he is. This is a dark, bustling San Francisco, the part that turns your back on all the blue sea and sky and all those pastel-colored, gabled Victorian houses that so optimistically cling to those cruel hills. As I ride the Hyde Street cable car from Nob to Russian Hill at that moment when it turns into the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco seems to me like it has just come out of the laundry all clean, blue and white, hung dry in the morning sun.
But Hammett’s characters have no time to look at such love. After all, they are looking for much more elusive beauty – “the things they dream of,” as Bogart said in the movie (but Hammett is not in the book): black enamel, solid gold, a jewel decorated with a hawk that will consume all their ambition and energy and end them all to escape.
Hammett gives his characters very occasional diversions. Joel Cairo takes part in a play at the Geary Theater. Currently showing Moliere’s Misanthrope; A Christmas Carol has been announced for the holidays. It’s hard to imagine Joel Cairo attending any. He would not be able to walk far from his Belvedere Hotel. In its true embodiment of Bellevue, it was just one block at Geary and Taylor’s. These days it has been reborn as Monaco, a chic boutique fantasy hotel in which overturned Vuitton coffins serve as a reception desk and hot air balloons on the ceilings of trompe l’oeil moving through fluffy clouds.
Occasionally, the San Francisco Night Fog is mentioned, “skinny, slatey, and penetrating,” but for the most part, Falcon’s characters move through the world of the interior: Sam’s office, his apartment, Brigid’s apartment, and various hotel suites.
Dashiell Hammett worked as a detective in San Francisco for a while. He moved around a lot, but for a while he lived at 891 Post Street and located Sam Spade’s apartment there. When I ask the restaurant waiter if it’s a safe area to visit at night, he shrugs and says, “It’s a little gay ghetto after dark …..”
Hammett gave Spade an office in the splendid 1926 building at 111 Sutter Street. A marble hall and walls and a bundled, painted ceiling more closely resemble the entrance to the Medici Palace. The concierge, the maintenance man, everyone who happens to be around the hall knows that this is the place where “Sam Spade had his office – on the fifth floor.”
In another Hammett direction talking about the scene, Spade said, “Have him call me at John & # 39; s, Ellis Street.” And there, the detective asks the waiter to hurry his order with “chops, baked potatoes and sliced tomatoes.” In 1997, John & # 39; s Grill was named a National Literary Landmark. For $ 29, a visitor can still order these noodles. If they come, they should try to eat them in the upstairs dining room where Hammett books and a replica of the Maltese Falcon are kept in the entrance glass.
But something is missing. Sam Spade may recognize the look of the place, but probably not its scent. No smoke. And the smokers lurking outside his office building, rising on Sutter, smoking briskly during a brief break for American lunch are a reminder that Sam and his ladies are covered with coins left behind in the second century.