Friday, August 29, 2008

Sam's Francisco

So, what was it like to read The Maltese Falcon in San Francisco, you ask? Well, I did a little sleuthing of my own and discovered Dashiell Hammett Way near where I'm staying. It's also near to the spot where Miles Archer gets murdered in chapter 2 of the novel...though that little alley has still retained its Hammett-era name of Burritt St. I wonder why they didn't rename that street after Hammett, instead of this one.

Otherwise, I haven't really felt the true presence of Sam Spade, Joel Cairo, and all those other colorful characters of old San Francisco. Haven't taken the Hammett walking tour or gone to John's Grill to order the "Sam Spade Lamb Chops." Of course, I think this has something to do with the season and the weather we're having. I don't think The Maltese Falcon ever tells you what time of year it takes place but I doubt that it's August or September. This is not the time for noir, for hats and overcoats and murders committed in the evening fog. Instead, and I quote my mother, "There's always a few nights each year when the fog doesn't roll in and cool down the city, and if a couple of those nights come in a row, people just get wild. You can feel it. Everyone gets tense and edgy."

Well, that might be happening now...exacerbated by the fact that last night there was a fire on Yerba Buena Island, so traffic downtown leading to the Bay Bridge got all snarled up. You could certainly feel the tension in the air right then.

I've continued getting to know San Francisco, so much so that when reading The Maltese Falcon I discovered, if not an outright geographical mistake, at least something that comes off as misleading. A cabbie reports that he took Brigid O'Shaughnessy "out on Sacramento [a major street that runs east-west] and when we got to Polk she rapped on the glass and said she wanted to get a newspaper, so I stopped at the corner and whistled for a kid, and she got her paper... Then I went out on Sacramento some more, and just after we'd crossed Van Ness she knocked on the glass again and said take her to the Ferry Building."

Polk and Van Ness are both streets that run north-south, intersecting Sacramento Street. And the cabbie's report makes it sound like he had to drive a fair distance to get from one to the other. But in reality, Polk and Van Ness are just one block apart! Brigid would've had to be pretty damn quick finding the information she wanted in the newspaper, in order for the cabbie's story to check out. I've taken the #1 bus (which runs along Sacramento) enough times in the last week that this struck me as an implausibility.

This bus also runs by a little alley called Perine Place, and I feel sure that Dashiell Hammett must've taken inspiration from this when he named Spade's secretary "Effie Perine."

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