East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Friends of Mr Cairo

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Joel Cairo is a character in Dash Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, and was portrayed by Peter Lorre in the 1941 movie, John Huston’s debut as a director, featuring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.
The movie is, of course, an absolute classic, and a seminal proto-noir, and I’ve watched it a dozen times.

The friends of Mr Cairo in the movie are the unsavoury, obsessed people that hunt for the Falcon, and have no compunction when it comes to killing.

On a completely different note, The Friends of Mr Cairo is the title of an album from 1981, the second collaboration between Jon Anderson, better known as the voice of Yes, and producer and composer Vangelis of Chariots of Fire fame. The album features a song of the same title, a 12-minutes work in three movements that references the Huston movie and many other cliches from noir and gangster movies.

And back when I was in university, and I had friends that shared my passion for music and film noir, in a collision of Sam Spade and Jon & Vangelis, “the friends of Mr Cairo” (with quotes emphasized) became a sort of code we used in our chats, to mean the kind of upper class people that used favours and connections to abuse the system to their advantage – from getting out-of-calendar exam sessions to scoring seats for sold-out concerts or shows…

I’m sure they have a few tickets set aside for the friends of Mr Cairo.

The guys that always get a window seat on long haul flights, and have no problem finding a table without reservations. The guys that cut you and steal your taxi.

Much later, when I temporarily put my Italian blog on hiatus, The Friends of Mr Cairo was the name of a tentative blog I set up to talk exclusively about jazz music and black and white films. The backlash against the idea – what the hell, I had shot down my blog, and now I was opening another? I was supposed to disappear! What a slimy bastard I was! – was such that the blog died after a week.

Mr Cairo and his friends came back to me two days ago, when a video was leaked of a well-known Italian businessman and publisher, whose name is Urbano Cairo. In the video, the guy was addressing his sales guys, rubbing his hands happily at the idea of the revenue his advertising agency would make selling publicity for groceries and drugs aimed at all the people that’s sitting at home in quarantine.
The gentleman comes from these very hills of Astigianistan, and makes a display of a behaviour perfectly in line with “the friends of Mr Cairo” we talked about back in the ’90s.

As the incriminated video was playing all over the web, I was busy setting up my first online gaming night in a long time, and in 36 hours as you read this, my new team will take the first tentative steps in a pulp adventure game. And as I was putting together handouts and notes and stuff, I said to myself that a gaming group that plays a pulp roleplaying game, needs a pulp team name, and maybe a logo to print t-shirts.

And so, as of tomorrow, The Friends of Mister Cairo will be the name of my gaming group – not that they have any decision power in this matter.

And now a little music…

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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