I’ve thought a lot on how to write about the name of this project, about how I wanted to explain the reason a very un special canteen became my own pilgrimage site, and how stories of coffee drinking philosophers and rich kids in caravans lead me to become fascinated with and even migrate to a place - Istanbul. In the middle of Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul's old city, in sight of the two most famous buildings in Turkey - Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque there is a tiny shop selling overpriced food, when I moved to the city this is where I began my sightseeing.
Turkey has laid claim (albeit debatable) to the birth of many things that I love, backgammon, cuppa soup, Father Christmas, even Fred Flintstone- Cappadocia looks like Bed Rock no?. And my own obsession with conception and historical oddities also came in the shape of routes, I was a little in love with stories of ancient shipwrecks off the coast, a lot in love with the Silk Road and even more with the hippy tracks of affluent nomads from the 70s. I want to be where things began I thought, and these particular things were routes and shipwreck communities and food halls. And somewhere between Midnight Express and speaking to all those guys under trees in India spinning tales I came to learn of the Pudding Shop.
For some context - back in the 60s ‘The Pudding Shop’ was the nickname given to Lale Restaurant, a small canteen opposite the Blue Mosque famous for its chicken pudding. This restaurant, in true spirit of Istanbul being a crossroads between east and west (a tag that it will never, it seems, shake the stigma of), seemed to be a place where young travellers would meet to ‘go east’. The Pudding Shop was a must stop along the grand tour-esque, 60s rite of passage spectacular ‘hippie trail’. Here the young and free would congregate, swap stories, talk politics, pick up rides and write notes to each other on the bulletin board.
“I’m sorry about the business down in Greece’ wrote Malcom to Megan - and I bet he was.
This was more or less the spark point of a trail, something I’ve heard older couples regale when they talk about ‘life on the road’ before they had all those kids, and even older folks in India (the ones who never seemed to make it back) speaking loud about how they journeyed to make that tree their home. The hip young things in vans going overland through Europe to Kathmandu, through Syria and Afghanistan in search of themselves all started its Middle Eastern wing in the Pudding Shop - so say the clouds of smoke, newspapers and dodgy prison movies, and out in that courtyard, 40 years ago, all those kids heading east would probably agree.
There’s a thing about mobility, about transport, about how things get to where they’re going, where they pass through. I like them all, from flight paths to the hungry trails of backpackers, and there are also meeting points, places to facilitate and catch a ride. I’ve heard a lot about these fountain points and rest havens, and I've heard how developments really change things for pilgrims, and even more fascinating things about how Western Europe only started eating tomatoes on their second trip back from the new world topping pizzas. I wouldn’t even like to speculate how much a journey makes the shape of something, or what those rest stops along the way come to mean. But for sure, I would have loved to have seen what went down on the hippie trail all those years ago, what those cites looked like, and all those newspapers saying bad things about the drifters.
There’s an article on the bulletin board now, gone are the original messages from the days of love letters and apologies and what remains are angry rants from the press interviews with worried parents.
One headline reads ‘Girls that end up in the Pudding Shop’ - it was a warning to parents about losing their daughters to free love and drug use and the wicked temptations of the East.
Maybe 40 years after that article came out there were still girls ending up in the Pudding Shop, and in another life I might have been there the first time round, mapping the same trail and blowing a trust fund on tires. The article talked about the girls like they somehow got very lost on their way to wifehood, I saw twenty other people in the canteen doing the same as me, and in among trying to sort through my own ideas about migration I felt a little more qualified to unfold a complicated legacy of exploration, another kind of margin.
Outside the shop today is the most crowded tourist clump of a courtyard, the trail’s ending point ‘Freak Street’ in Kathmandu 3000 miles away had a similar draw, the one time destination along a road that carried the drifting hippies along like spices, now with a new brand of spiritual tourists, a crew of girls ‘ending up’ in places and eating pudding.
Lydia Beardmore is a writer and MA student in Anthropology of Travel, Tourism and Pilgrimage, she is the founder of Pudding Shop Press and lives in London, UK.