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The Peregrine Falcon in Nature
The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), also known simply as the Peregrine, is a large, crow-sized falcon in the family Falconidae. Both the English and its scientific names mean “wandering falcon”, referring to the migratory habits of many northern populations.
This bird has a blue-gray back, barred white under-parts and a black head. It can reach speeds over 320 km/h (200 mph) in a stoop, making it the fastest animal on the planet. Experts recognize 17–19 subspecies all over the world, which vary in appearance and range. While its diet consists almost exclusively of medium-sized birds, the Peregrine will occasionally hunt small mammals, small reptiles or even insects.
The Peregrine Falcon in Maltese History
In mediaeval times, the peregrine falcon was much hunted to serve as a hunting ‘buddy pet’ as it was let off by its owner to soar high in the sky and swooped onto other birds in flight. This bird often served as a leisure time pet for the amusement of the medieval lords of Europe. It is known that in late mediaeval times, the Maltese used to breed such birds and export them to the royal houses of Europe, together with other birds of prey.
When in 1530, Emperor Charles V of Spain ceded Malta to the Order of St. John, a written pact stipulated that as a nominal feoff entitlement, the Order was to pay a yearly homage to the Emperor by presenting him a peregrine falcon.
The Maltese Falcon was a novel by Dushiell Hammet first serialised in 1929. The title of the book refers to a bejewelled statuette, shrouded in black paint, that went missing. According to Hammet’s storyline, the statuette was a gift that the Order of St John had presented to Charles V. This implies that the author had known of the historical peregrine falcon that the Order presented to the Emperor but twisted the historic facts by employing poetic licence, turning the real bird into a statuette. The fact that Hammet opted for a bejewelled statuette that was coated in black paint to hide its real value, hints that Hammet again drew from another episode of Maltese history. According to tradition, when Napoleon’s troops landed on Malta, the silver gates of the chapel of the blessed sacrament in St John’s church were coated in black so they would escape the eyes of the plundering troops.
The novel recounts the adventures of a private eye, Sam Spade, who is hired into service by a lady calling herself Miss Wonderly, to follow a man, Floyd Thursby, who has allegedly ran off with Wonderly’s underage sister. Later on in the story, Wonderly turns out to be the wily and manipulative Brigid O’Shaughnessy who is actively involved in tracing a statuette that represents the Maltese Falcon.
Later in the story, Spade is visited by a man, Joel Cairo, a Greek who is also involved in the hunt for the statuette. He offers Spade $5,000 if the private eye can retrieve a figurine of a black bird that has recently arrived in San Francisco. A certain Gutman informs Spade that the statue of the Maltese Falcon could be traced to the home of an exiled Russian general, Kemidov who lives in Consantinople. Gutman hires Wonderly, alias O’Shaughnessy to actively retrieve the statue, which she did. On laying hands on the statuette and learning of its precious value O’Shaughnessy decides to keep the statuette for herself and her partners in crime.
Eventually towards the end of the story the statuette turns up right in Spade’s office when an injured man, Captain Jacobi of the ship La Paloma, shows up. He holds the figurine falcon but drops dead from his gunshot wounds. However, the statuette turns out to be a fake. Spade eventually discovers that O’Shaughness earlier on had killed Thursby and double crossed him and so Spade turns her and the statuette to the police.
The Hollywood Films
The story was recounted four times on the celluloid. It was first brought to the screen in 1931 by Warner Bros. It starred Ricardo Cortez as detective Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels in the role of Ruth Wonderly. The film is sometimes shown under the title Dangerous Female to avoid confusion with later versions.
In 1941 the story was again filmed by Warner Bros. and its director was John Huston. Humphrey Bogart played the leading role as private investigator Sam Spade and Mary Astor as his femme fatale client. The film was Huston’s directorial debut and was nominated for three Academy Awards.
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On a different note …. you may want to explore an another aspect of Maltese culture …
This book deals with the story of Maltese humour since Roman times up to present.
The author tackles humour both on the individual level as well as that which was and is presented in the theatre and on screen. The writer draws from many past and present anecdotal episodes and situations to elucidate on the genral state of the Maltese psyche. Humour is a two way style of communication that sizes up the temperament of both the presenter as well as the receiver of humour.
Paperback; paġni: 226. Euro 12.95. Available at bookstores …. If you are in Valletta try Agenda or Meli Bookshops.
Also available in ebook format from Amazon Kindle. Price: $.7.30.
Paperback Pages: 226 published 2017 ample illustrations and photos Available in all libraries
‘Ajjut ….!’ … ‘Help …!’