Modern Istanbul's complex geography renders it all but unmappable: three dozen districts swelling over seven hills, no single centre, fingered by water, jumbled in time. Age dilutes its fluidity. I can't keep a grip on its currents of slippery politics, of chaotic transport, of residents drawn together to argue, talk and trade. Its light is maritime, a sea lies over each shoulder, yet the city is 2,000 miles from any ocean. A ten-minute stroll takes me from a sleepy Greek fishing village to a Hapsburg cul-de-sac reminiscent of a Klimt painting. Across the horizon surge waves of new world tower blocks. In the shifting expanding spiral of my wanderings, I find its anarchic streets, its shifting colours, its millions of voices, its dreams of a legendary past at once foreign and familiar.
I'm at the Pudding Shop, the first meeting point on the hippie trail to Kathmandu. In 1957, two brothers from the Black Sea, Namik and Idris Çolpan opened the Lale Pastanesi across from Istanbul's Blue Mosque. For a couple of years, well-to-do Turks stopped by for frothy black kahve and honey-soaked baklava topped with green pistachios. Then, the tiny, open-fronted patisserie attracted the attention of the early overlanders, both because of its central location and their sugar-craving munchies. Overnight, the travellers made the Lale their place, renaming it the Pudding Shop. Outside its door, London double-deckers and fried-out Kombis parked along the Hippodrome. Pop music played in its garden. The well-to-do Turks stood outside, their mouths agape, watching their sons and nephews drink coffee with paradise-bound freaks in Apache headbands and paisley waistcoats.
Today, the cafeteria is indistinguishable from a dozen of its neighbours, apart from a few faded sixties photographs tacked on the rear wall. Beneath them, a handful of Lycra-clad Danish civil servants procrastinate over dessicated pizzas and köfte meatballs. At the next table, a sunburnt Englishman nurses an early Troy Pilsner.
An extract from the highly recommended Magic Bus by Rory MacLean, (Penguin ISBN 0670914843). The photo above shows my wife surrounded by children from a Muslim school near the beautiful church of Kariye Camii. Contrary to received wisdom the pupils were encouraged to talk to us and ask about Western life, and their teacher was happy for me to talk to the 13 year-olds about the Armenian genocide.
Turkey has many problems, but the open faces of those young people and their delight in asking and answering questions are quite a contrast to Western schools today. Here in the UK the children are taught not to speak to strangers, and attitudes are moulded by the paid-for media, not face-to-face debate. Travelling for our teenagers means a Health and Safety approved £7199 ($14000) Gap Year package, complete with personal travel adviser. Yes, we certainly found Istanbul refreshing. Unlike some, this blog is normally 100% animal-free. But here to end this section is a happy hound in a Beyoğlu street who hasn't yet found the need for a personal travel adviser ...
Now playing - Ahmet Kanneci plays Turgay Erdener. Born in 1957 Turgay Erdener studied at Ankara State Conservatory. He has written for a wide range of forces, and his output includes a symphony dating from 2003. This Sony CD features four works for solo guitar, all played by their dedicatee Ahmet Kanneci whose studies included both architecture and music. My photo shows Erdener at the piano with Kanneci standing. Modern but accessible music, the three folk tunes are particularly beautiful. If you like the seriously under-rated Preludes and Fugues for guitar by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco you will enjoy the music of Turgay Erdener. A great discovery, but the problem is buying it if you aren't travelling to Istabul. The best I can offer is this Turkish online retailer.
Now follow me on the hippie trail in 1967, then chill with a visit the Pudding Shop website for a virtual kahve and baklava, and end with a massage at our favourite hammam (Turkish bath).
All Istanbul photos taken by Pliable in March 2007 by Pliable. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk