Valletta, Malta – I’m in the capital of Malta before embarking on the Europa 2, Hapag-Lloyd’s new luxury cruise ship, for a cruise through the Western Mediterranean.
Valletta is a beautiful walled city, once home to the Knights of St. John — originally formed during the Crusades to bring Christianity back to the Holy Land — who fled here from the island of Rhodes in the 1500s.
When the knights arrived here, they paid a fief to the Spanish king of one falcon per year in order to occupy the island; eventually, the payment evolved into a golden falcon. No one knows what happened to the golden falcons, but the mystery formed the basis of the Dashiell Hammett novel The Maltese Falcon, later made into a classic film noir starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor.
My guess is that most baby boomers would think first of The Maltese Falcon if the name Malta is mentioned. (Followed, perhaps, by the Maltese cross.)
So you might expect that enterprising Maltese would feature The Maltese Falcon T-shirts, tours, restaurants and the like, hoping to capture some traveling baby boomer interest in the same way that an entrepreneur in Morocco cashed in by creating a duplicate of Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca, from the Bogart classic film.
But so far I’ve been able to turn up no evidence of that. I’ve perused the schlock shops, with no evidence of Maltese Falcon T-shirts, refrigerator magnets or anything else; asked local tourist guides about falcon-related restaurants, bars or hotels – nada; asked other travelers if they’ve encountered anything falcon-related. Other than an occasional statue, no.
This strikes me as a great marketing opportunity lost.
I know I’d stop in to have a drink at any establishment called The Maltese Falcon, hoping to run into a Lorre or Greenstreet-type character.
It matters not that the novel and film were actually set in San Francisco — it’s the name that counts.
Malta, what are you waiting for?