A year in Turunç

In 2022 I moved to the seaside village with unusual (back then) name Turunç. Which means "bitter orange" in Turkish. I knew nothing about the place, except our friends were there and they liked it and they persuaded us to join them after another gruesome turn of the political wheel.

Who knew that this place and, what's more important, its people will grow on us. And when we had to make a hard decision to leave because we could not prolong our residency, I realised that this place really became my home. 

Me, my partner, our son and our friends spent a very special time here. We felt loved, cared for and accepted. 

We made connections, played music, painted walls, swam in the sea, hiked mountains, drank tea at the waterfalls, collected stones. One day I had an idea that I would love to create an album of portraits of people who were kind to my family. I am sure my son will remember this feeling of love, but he will eventually forget faces, as he is not even 7 now. I also am sure, we will be back this way or another. And this album is a statement of sorts. This year was not something I would love to forget easily and get into the life of a new place. So for my son, for myself and others, I create this series of faces of Turunç. With my greatest gratitude, love and hope to be back one day.


During winter, we frequently went to the sea side and spent time at the beach sipping hot çay with Şenol. He is always at the Yali Sea Club, always smiling, always welcoming. He was like an anchor for me and Lucas. He made fires in the evening on the beach in winter. He loved my son (okay, everybody loved Lucas in Turunç, but Şenol was the first person Lucas really remembered and wanted to visit). I remember how he asked me where is my usual happy self, when I came to the cafe forlorn and sad for some reasons. Being near him brings my happy self back for sure. 


I only knew Bülent as a kind and smily neighbour before learning he is doing great cocktails and coffee during the season. And he always told how if I have any problems at the Olive Grove, a property where we lived, I can always come to him and ask for help. Also my forever fashion icon, I wish I could be as stylish and awesome as he. 


How can I even start talking about these two? Our closest neighbours, Jan and Mark, were the best people one can ever have have as neighbours. The most humorous, the most welcoming and hard working. Endless coffees and talks included.

I was crazy worried when Jan broke her arm in February, but I saw how amazing she was at the recovery. We did a lot of emotional, personal, political, cultural and whatever other kinds of conversations over coffee. I just hope we really became friends for long long time. Please, be it forever. 


Whenever you need something printed or fixed in Turunç, you go to Mustafa workshop. And he is there, always telling stories, always ready to talk politics, always half hidden among all the stuff in the workshop. Mustafa also is a photographer and a person who loves music. 


We met with Ali in winter, when I was attending the Knitting club, and he was the most gracious host for us all. We did not really started talking until spring. I may have left Turunç, but my art stays at the wall of the Fidan bar, because Ali invited me to paint there before the season. We exchanged ideas back and forth, I drank a ton of çay at the bar and then I painted. 

Doing a mural made me so happy, and I was glad that there is a bit of me in the visual image of the bar and the village. Also it feels like many talks are ahead. 


I did not really talk that much with Mehmet, because there is always somebody around. And hell yes I was shy. Mehmet is like a pillar of the village. And I am so grateful that I was able to spend more time with Papa Fidan closer to our departure. 


Unfortunately and very sadly the world lost Alihan in the accident shortly before we left Turunç. It felt right to include him here, even though it was not me who made this portrait. I was slowly teaching him Russian words every time I visited the Fidan bar during winter months. I think my Turkish and his Russian were quite at the same level. But I always liked talking with Alihan, even if we could only talk that much with our limited word count. My love is always with the Fidan family. 

I thank Jan for providing the photo. 


How is this possible that I discovered and met Marga only when it was more or less fixed that we have to leave Turunç? It still feels ridiculous. 

She collects wild clay and makes artforms, she hikes, she draws with colored pencils, we just started to know each other. But we will continue. Luck will be our friend. If a Russian and an American met in a Turkish village (even if it is The Village) with 1k population, well, it works, right? 


We only met 4 times with Seçkin, husband of Marga, but each time is memorable for me. I love when a person asks deep and very wise questions, which helps me to look inside my own soul and see some unexpected ideas and realisations. Looking forward more talks to be honest. 

He doesn't like to be photographed, but I am glad how this portrait turned to be.


It is actually very hard to state who is the stylish man in Turunç, or in Türkiye in general, let's be honest. But Ali is one of them for sure. We had zero personal conversations, but enough of small talk to feel very at home when coming to his cafe for lunch. Which we did pretty often in winter, when days were the coldest and Ali had a wood burning stove and hot tomato soup. 


Upon our arrival to Turunç, I've been tasked to write Turkish music theme for a game.
Although I was mentally a mess, I thought that this might help me to focus on the things I actually can control. But the guys wanted to have live Turkish instruments and here I was in a tiny village without any knowledge of the language or connections to anyone. 
After I've asked every musician friend I could think of, I've written to local Russian-speaking chat about my problem.

And turned out that not only there is a musician nearby, but he lives in the same village, right around the corner! It was a real miracle - made possible by brave Julia, who came here two years before and wrote me about her boyfriend, Romeo, who plays saz (Turkish folk instrument) and also sings. 
Julia not only helped me with work, she really saved my soul and mind at the very beginning of our new unexpected life. Both with her wise and kind words and with her amazing hot borscht and cold kvass.


It was never enough time when we met with Romeo. Always had something to talk and joke about. Kind human being, talented musician, how can one describe a person who just felt like a true friend from the beginning? And the more we talked, the closer we felt. 


Here is the quote from Natasha, one of the founders  of our Russian speaking Turunç community:

"When I met Romeo in March of 2022, he told me about some amazing musician friends he has in the bigger cities. I didn't think back then that I will ever have a chance to meet them. And yet, next summer they came and started having life gigs twice a week right in Turunç. 
They are crazy talented guys who know their instruments like fish know water. But the way they vibe, give each other space to shine and create energy together - is something special. Not to mention how friendly and supportive they always are towards other musicians.
I feel honoured and happy that I could jam and share the stage with them a couple of times"


I met Lala via Şenol and Romeo, we immediately felt connected, because we both are non-British foreigners who came to Turunç by unprecedented luck and decided to stay. Because despite its imperfections Turunç is the best place to stay. I love how we shared that same energy of working online and doing design work for other people. 

I also discovered that we share the same love for swimming and horses, with the difference that Lala deals with heat much better then I am, as she is from Jordan. But I do winter swimming, because duuuh, Russian (just kidding, many Russians don't enjoy cold waters).


One day we heard that Turunç will have a new place opening soon. It will be a coffee place, as a coffee person I immediately rushed there, and met Hakan. Welcoming host, actor and coffee ambassador. His idea is to have a place in Turunç for jazz gigs, sophisticated talks, book clubs, poetry readings, etc. This is how Antique Garage Cafe came to be. Natasha, Matthew and George played jazz there and it was magnificent. 


One December evening we went for a walk by the seaside and got caught up in a mighty thunderstorm and pouring rain, and then electricity went down in all the village. The only light we saw were gas lanterns in the Gypsy cafe. And there were two brothers, who sat us around the fire stove and gave us hot çay. Up until now it is one the most treasured memories of Turunç that I have. I also learnt about the myth of Shahmaran from them. 


Mustafa was bringing us gas and water, when we were running out. He always had a smile to deliver as well. I cannot describe how a smile changes the day. I learnt a ton from people of Turunç of how to approach life and work. We definitely are a gloomier bunch back there at home in Russia. 


There is no way to talk about Ali as a real estate agent without talking about him as a human being. Ali is a person who finds places to live for people. So he found us our beloved apartment for really good price, which was not that easy at that moment. Which made us neighbours with Jan and Mark.

He also was always helping and calming me down when I was freaking out about the residency. Ariel applied before the problem started, but me and Lucas did it a month later. He also brought us olive oil and little olive sapling. Which grows at the Olive grove garden now.


Here is the quote from Natasha, one of the founders  of our Russian speaking Turunç community: "If it hadn't been for Yavuz, none of us would probably stay in Turunç.

One cold lifechanging evening he was sitting by the fire in the seaside cafe with his British friends. And saw me, walking alone in the wind by the sea. In an empty off-season village. He offered help, place by the fire and a cup of hot çay. 
I felt so lost and scared at that moment, so when I felt accepted by that tiny international community I cried. So we spent quite a few evenings with Yavuz, looking at the winter waves, sitting by the fire and just trying not to lose our minds. Several times he gave us food and çay, showed us around, helped us and our friends to find a place to stay. I will never forget his kindness"


Together with Şenol, Fevzi kept the Yali Sea Club alive and cozy in winter. He has a Russian wife, so Lucas very much enjoyed a chance to speak Russian in the completely new environment. Also nobody could make a shrimp omlette that satisfy my son, but Fevzi. I don't really have much craving for food from motherland, but once we ate chicken soup in Russian style cooked by Fevzi and it was brilliant and felt like home. I hope he opens his own place, and we will visit it in the future. 


Serkan (or is it Sercan? Tell me if I am wrong) is the person who brings good and smiles. He is the one who oftentimes delivers parcels from trendyol, Turkish version of amazon. We did not order anything before our leave, but one day I was sitting at the Fidan bar and saw him delivering to somebody else. I immediately took action and asked for a portrait. Thank you, Ali, for translating for me, so I did not creep the dude. 


Cat trio, these amazing people run a NGO that helps cats of Turunç. Lea and Jobey are here in the village for 20 years, not that easy to believe, huh? They are always kind and always vigilant, looking for kittens who got troubles, gathering donations and running to the vet more often than I go grocery shopping.  


Ira and Mira were in Turunç long before the influx of Russians, she speaks Turkish and knows everything that one needs to know to integrate into local life. We spent a lot of hours talking at the tea garden. And it was Ira who introduced me to Marga. Adnan's sense of humor hit the right spot, and we enjoyed a great deal of conversation and joking.

Ira's daughter Mira became friends with Lucas, awkwardly at first, and getting closer to the end of our year. Breaking this relation apart is also something that saddens me, as I clearly saw how they grew and learnt to negotiate with each other. 

But it is a perfect way to teach Lucas a pen friendship, right? 


Some people are such a natural part of the place, that they become a part of your life even without that much talk. Tako is such a person, also blessed be Google translate which lets people do communication without knowing the languages of each other.


Here is the quote from Natasha, one of the founders  of our Russian speaking Turunç community: "At the end of our first concert in Turunç at Gypsy, Paul came to us with his beautiful guitar and offered to jam together - right there and then. And that was awesome.

A real rockstar of the village with a huge collection of precious guitars, with the real treasure being his wife Jan. 
A lady with a golden heart and a brilliant sense of humour.  I'm not sure what I will miss more - playing music together with Paul, laughing at Jan's jokes or just sitting on their couch, drinking çay with milk and listening to their banter about the silly dogs"


This family is absolutely one of the pillars of the village. Antik restaurant was a special lunch place for us, or birthday dinner one. They close in winter, so I had to wait untill spring to meet these emotional, caring and open people. 

I remember how Mujde gave Lucas Lego set so I can have a dinner peacefully. A mom knows a mom. And also how she shouted NO, when I told her we really are leaving in 2 weeks.  


We did not have a chance for longer time together, but time we spent talking was very nice. Ben told stories of how he happened to be in Turunç - by sheer luck, like many, as it seems. And he stayed for years. His stories made me envy him, and all his years in the village.

Ben and Annette were our immediate neighbours, as well as Mark and Jan. Couldn't wish for better ones. 


In winter touristic life gets dormant in the village. We were looking for the place to practice yoga indoors. Suat allowed us to use the empty foyer and patio at the Turunç Dream Hotel where he is a manager. When our parents and friends came to visit us, Suat's hotel was the first place we recommended. 

Since his family is living in Germany, and he lives between Turunç and Cologne, we spoke not only English but also German. Which is not too rare for Turkey, but not something common in Turunç. 
Also on Natasha's birthday Suat surprised her with a huge fishbowl of Piña colada which we shared together with Natasha herself, him, me and Ariel. 



I did different yoga classes, but Anna's one are outstanding. Is is a combination of a personality and environment? I don't know, most probably yes. I leart a lot about my body in Turunç, how it works, how it feels, what it wants. And big part of it was because of Anna and her yoga. 

She is so thoughtfull, resourseful and attentive to the needs of body and soul. 

Also I loved our talks which we definitely did not have enough of. 


Here is the quote from Natasha, one of the founders  of our Russian speaking Turunç community: "Owners of "Svetlana home" shop on the main floor of our house, Sveta and Süleyman were one of the first people we met in Turunç, when we decided to settle here. 

Süleyman helped us to move and assemble the furniture, Sveta was helping with Turk-Rus translations and introduced us to other amazing neighbours we had. Not to mention the countless times they received our parcels from Trendyol. Kindest hearts with a beautiful love story"


Marmaris makes sense because it has a bookshop with spesialty coffee, which is run by these two. Otherwise I would leave Turunç even rarer. With Gamze we always have something to talk about how damned hard it is to be a parent and do work and carve out a little corner for one's self. And with Ali it is always books, coffee, politics, future plans and all that. 

They moved from Istanbul to Marmaris is pursuit of quiet life and slow pace. 


There are many place in Turunç that I loved, but Books & Coffee, Marmaris, takes a special place of my heart. I believe that a city is truly alive if it has an independent bookstore with dedicated owners. 

I think if we stayed in Turunç forever, I definitely would think about opening a bookstore and/or art space somehow. 

My eternal thanks to Ali and Gamze for showing me courage to do so. 

Thank you for taking your time and watching this album. Working on it helped me greatly to do the work of grief which is still strong in me after our departure. Everything is really so complex and layered. I am trying to find right words to wrap it up. My personal emotions got intertwined with the emotions of our Russian friends, whom we left behind or who left before us. Whenever  I think about our departure, as permanent as it seems from the moment of now, I am aware that we are truly blessed with the chance to be back, in opposite to the people who left the world forever. I find it very important to remember the value of any life and rather build connections then dig trenches. 

Now sitting on the other side of the Mediterranean, I letting waves of saudade (I leant saudade in Brazil while doing capoeira, Brazilians are very good at longing, saudade means "a deep emotional state of melancholic longing for a person or thing that is absent") pass through me. As well as fear, sadness, hope, joy, all these emotions are a part of me and I am not looking away from any of them.

Being in Turunç healed me, taught me about who I am and what I am about. And I thank every person who had a word in this process. We don't say goodbye, we say görüşürüz. 


yours, Vera


1. Hi-resolution images might be found and downloaded HERE


2. I also wrote some ESSAYS and edited VIDEOS concerning Turunç and about Turunç, you may find them by following links and if you subscribe it will greatly support my work.


3. At some point I got overwhelmed with packing and all the goodbyes. And I did not have time to make a few more portraits of people who were dear to me during our stay. For that I am sorry. It only means that I will be back and make those photos.