Following brief stints in the Marine Corps and as a high school teacher, Terrence Coen enjoyed a long sales and marketing career in the information business where he helped build and sell companies, and developed business around the world. With an always-optimistic attitude, he handled everything with poise. He could tackle anything. Until it came time to face retirement, that is. Terry's humorous and humble account of his transition from business executive to retired guy, and the adventure of running a B&B in Italy that ensued, is a must-read. Travel enthusiasts and Italophiles will love this memoir. As will anybody who enjoys a great story and a few good laughs. Learn more about the book, Retirement Italiano: Adventures and Misadventures in a Foreign Culture.
Terry's memoire, Retirement Italiano: Adventures and Misadventures in a Foreign Culture, is available in print ebook formats on Amazon.com.
The author donates profits from sales of the book to UNICEF to support the world's children.
Terry has produced a handful of short stories, and continues to write new ones regularly. Enjoy this selection of some of his current favorites.
The Third Daughter
Giuseppe wanted a son. I don’t know that for certain. I wasn’t there in Rome, when his wife went into the delivery room. I am an American, who never left his homeland until 28 years after Giuseppe’s third daughter was born. So I never really got to meet him. Let alone discuss the matter with him. I suspect as a father, who already had an eight and a six year old daughter, the idea of a son would have been nice.
Most men want to have a son. I think they see the idea of a son as a bit of an an incarnation of themselves. A son who could rise higher than they could. Or maybe fill in some of the gaps in their own existence. Get the top job. Make the team. Deliver the winning run. Or in particular, in Giuseppe’s case, excel in his sport; the bicycle races that were such grand events in Europe at the time. Or at least to help in, and some day take over his butcher shop.
As it turned out only his third daughter got to help in the shop. And only with her did a special bond develop around his tool box as she took a proprietary interest in the small repairs he made around the apartment.
I can only imagine how much he must have missed her, when the Fascists forced him to go off to the army, and the joy he would have felt upon his return. And the fear, when he evaded the Nazis, who tried to re-conscript him and pull him away from those he loved once more.
By the time the third daughter turned nineteen, that love, as love can do, had to have grown so much. And then she announced her plans to go to America. When she returned four years later and announced that she had fallen in love with and planned to marry an American, his sense of loss had to intensify. But he accepted and blessed the union with an unknown foreigner and made plans to visit when he had saved enough to buy an airline ticket.
Sadly he died prematurely, never seeing his third daughter again. I am glad Giuseppe didn’t have that son. She has lived with me for over half a century now.
I would like him to know that I have been a caring, responsible partner to her. To take joy in the joy she has brought me.
I don’t think of dawn as breaking. Rather it slips in gradually. And with it comes the first and best performance of the day. It starts slowly, as one or two players survey the stage from atop the Wilkie’s Inn on the back street. Then they cautiously approach. First, they stop on a telephone line or a limb of the ornamental olive tree. No danger in sight, they descend upon the stage. Soon others hesitantly join them and the garden is transformed. It explodes with life.
My wife built their stage and is responsible for attracting these star performers, although at this early point in the show, she is sound asleep. Oblivious to it all.
Reflecting, I think of John Locke describing the tabula rasa, the blank canvas that is filled over time. That was the back yard when we first saw the property. It didn’t always attract man’s fine feathered friends. When we bought the property, it was roughly a 50 by 50 foot hill. All that the eye beheld was steep and barren, with the exception of a deteriorating staircase built from old railroad ties, a few calla lilies scattered about, and one nondescript tree. All on a background of dull gray textured soil, framed on three sides by a weathered redwood fence. My wife, over time, turned the blank canvas into a true work of art. One plant inspired the selection and planting of another and then another. Just the way Locke described the development of the person.
Those first responders are most often the blue birds. Referred to as Western Scavenger Blues. An unflattering name, which is more reflective of their behavior than their sleek good looks. Handsomest are the Tufted Blues, but they don’t come on a regular basis. The blues are hardly scavenging now, but rather feasting on carefully selected, especially recommended bird food, or their discernable favorite...peanuts. These they snatch away and carry to another spot and crack open.
Now the garden designer is awake, riveted to the window. Fixated on the show while periodically referencing her birds of Central California charts. The blues leave the feeder. Now it is any bird’s game. Often the warblers land softly on the feeder. They seek strength in numbers and scatter fast if the larger blues return for a second helping. As soon as the blues leave, the warblers return. And maybe the finches join them. Neither seem totally secure and will quickly surrender their place on the feeder should the blues return. When this happens, they content themselves with scrounging for seeds that have fallen to the ground from the blues shaking the feeder.
I marvel at the artistry, thinking that the backyard would make a fitting subject for Claude Monet. Centered about a stone work, a small waterfall cascades, drawing the attention of both large and small visitors to the garden. It is a bath for the birds during the day and during the summer months, an oasis for the raccoons and probably other nocturnal creatures at night. To the right of the water feature a patch of roses are on the verge of blooming and will add to and contrast with the color of the bold red camellia. The redwood fence is still there posting a background for two decorative olive trees and a pink ruby hearted “tea tree”, (leptospermum) and supporting two large mirrors positioned to create the allusion of a larger space.
Now the blues are back, but soon take off in the face of two woodpeckers. They are magnificent birds with their red crowned heads and black and white wings and tail feathers. The woodpeckers never land on the rim of the feeder the way the other birds do. They rather hook their feet on the lip of the rim and furiously peck through the lower window at the seeds. I think what it was like to be a young construction worker operating a jackhammer.
Now the doves descend. They are a familiar pair, several times the size of the fleeing woodpeckers. Always together…No birds challenge them. They own the feeder now. The warblers and finches continue to settle for bottom feeding. Crumbs from the table. In a way, Darwinian.
The stone stairs crisscross the garden from a narrow patio at its base to a pocket patio in a corner at the top. Most predominant is a cup of gold vine (solandra maxima) covering a pergola above a simple dining table. Outside the cover of the pergola, a seating area surrounds a small firepit. In the other corner, the stairs bring the visitor to a small spa. Both areas invite a view in the distance of another geography. It is the Monterey Bay, which sometimes sparkles in bright sunshine and other times disappears, shrouded in fog. It is a window into the world of occasional fishing boats, lone sailboats, whales and whale watching tour boats. A very different world.
The humming birds don’t go to the feeder. They don’t need to. They feed off the white and shades of orange and peach alstroemerias and the purply blue echium that grow on the other side of the garden. Stars of the show, hummingbirds are in a class by themselves. Darting and flirting about, they appear to defy the laws of nature. Their speed nearly defies this human’s eye, as they produce spectacular aerial feats. Hovering in place, they seem to defy gravity. Like none of the other visitors, they can throw themselves into reverse gear and fly backwards. The garden is home to three varieties of hummers; the orange and gray, the bright, almost translucent green, and the brilliant red.
Not known to drink water, more than the other birds they relish the cascading waterfall. They flutter and splash about and then resume the aeronautical performance. They don’t fear the larger birds. I have learned of their self-discipline. That is the ability to go right up to the point of expiring for lack of nutrition before ingesting the nectar from the flowers that serve as their source of energy. It is their food and water.
It is time to leave the bedroom to make our morning cappuccinos but I am still drawn to the window. Still reflective, I find myself thinking Thomas Aquinas, the Natural Law and the magnificent design in the universe.
Even this little speck of universe.
A Modern Form of Dueling
It scarcely made the e-news. It wasn’t the kind of news that would pop up on your smart phone as if it covered Roger Federer or even a mid-ranked player. Declan O’Connor was, at least at the time, not ranked among the top one hundred professional players on the ATP Tour. He had been there once, the short article in the back section of the sports section in the Washington Post read. And while the paper did not dedicate a great deal of space to this news, the article did mention the corpse found in the river.
Declan S. O’Connor, son of Michael D. O’Connor and Sandra O’Connor, the former Liu Woo, died earlier this month from apparent drowning. Mr. O’Connor was born in Beijing, his father American and mother Chinese. He grew up in Hingham, Massachusetts, attended Philips Exeter Academy, and graduated Cum Laude with a degree in linguistics from Dartmouth College, where he served as captain of the two-time Ivy League championship tennis team. After Dartmouth he played on the ATP, achieving modest success. More notable achievements included wins in Miami, Cabo San Lucas, Dubai, and Uzbekistan, as well as making it to the quarter finals in Moscow. His next scheduled match was to be an exhibition in Iran as part of a diplomatic effort to help thaw relationships with the US.
O’Connor was briefly married to Soheila Rajavi and leaves no heirs.
Not a great career nor a great life, sadly cut short at a time when insiders in the tennis world felt his career might be on the cusp of a rebound. That, in his thirties, he would realize the astonishing potential coaches, tournament officials and most of all we opponents said he possessed. It seemed that all who knew him on tour—and that was virtually all who were on tour—saw him in a special light. Whether dealing with the media, hanging in the locker room or hoisting a few cold ones, he had a way of standing out. There was a lot more to him than the obit reader would know. It might start with his poster boy looks. A Eurasian, Declan was blessed with what I’ll call prime DNA. Then there was his personal magnetism, the manner with which he drew attention while giving the feeling that at the moment nothing, not anything but you mattered to him.
Then of course, there was his game…unparalleled in many ways. He didn’t have a strong serve. No way he would have broken the speed gun. In fact, several women on the tour hit harder. And really, there wasn’t a great deal of power on display in his ground game. Since he was hardly six feet tall, he was hard put to hit either the smoking forehands or backhands his larger, taller opponents were known for displaying. What did make him so competitive could be attributed to two things. On the physical side it was his ability to cover the court. One sports writer commented that he “possessed the speed and reflexes of an NFL cornerback and the endurance of a Kenyan marathoner.” Fans would marvel at his indefatigable court coverage.
The other was the mental—or maybe I should say psychological—side of his game. Not just chasing down shots, but returning deep time after time until he would catch his opponent ever so slightly leaning in one direction and would unload in the other, surgically nipping the line. This often resulted in the opponent challenging the call only to be overruled and frustrated. Declan took a very cerebral approach to the game. He saw each match as one would a chess match. His move was not just to anticipate the opponent’s next ball strike, but to discover and exploit the other guy’s most subtle weaknesses. He seemed to be best at breaking his adversary’s rhythm. Such an ability to get inside his opponent’s head would lead to surprising mistakes or—in tennis talk—unforced errors.
And kinda strange: He did not seem to obtain much satisfaction from winning. Not even from the couple of tournaments where he had come out on top.
To Declan it was not so much that he had won, but more the fact that the other guy had lost! Dec once said that to him “tennis was a modern, although more civilized, form of dueling.”
As I said he was cerebral. The obit didn’t mention his gift for language. Nor how many he spoke. It could be that not even he knew. One thing about professional tennis is that it is played on an international stage, and it seemed wherever the tour took us he was able to converse with the locals. And so often he did.
There is so much about who he was that the obit did not say. But then, we were never sure who he really was. I believe I was closer to him than anyone else on the tour and maybe even closer than the woman who was briefly his wife. It was a strange marriage to begin with for he had hardly known her long before they tied the knot, and it must have been a slip knot because the marriage only lasted a few months. From what I know, she was older and moved among the highest-ranking officials in their government. Some said he was just her toy boy, and she quickly tired of him. Others said such a marriage became unworkable given their respective nationalities, once the US took out their nukes.
Anyway, he was matter of fact about the break up. No discernible sadness or disappointment that he shared with me. But there was a point, not to deep, that seemed impenetrable no matter how long you knew Dec nor how much time you spent in his company. In fact, that even held true no matter how many tall ones we threw down together. And Declan could throw them down with the best. Which leads me to disavow one of the oft circulated rumors that tried to explain his erratic attendance on the tour and sometimes erratic preparation and focus. They ascribed it to incompatible DNA. They said his Asian side was not constituted to deal with alcohol, while his Irish side just wasn’t constituted to leave it alone. I had ample up-close evidence that Dec could hold his drink.
Friends in private and sports writers in public would try to drill deeper to solve the enigma, or at least fill in the blanks. Why did he wait two years after college before joining the pros? One rumor had it that he had spent the time in third world countries, working as a volunteer with a Jesuit mission program designed to alleviate poverty. Others, less kindly, suggested he was drying out. I knew it wasn’t the latter but never could get an affirmation or denial out of him concerning the gig with the Jesuits.
And equal mystery often surrounded his seemingly random presence or lack of it on the tour. As one broadcaster—I think one of the McEnroes—put it, “Now You see him. Now you don’t.” I remember going through most of the summer months when he had cancelled out of a number of events. I hadn’t heard anything from him and then he showed up looking more like a just-beaten prize fighter than a tennis player.
Sometimes there would be no news of his whereabouts. Other times word was that he was wintering in Doha, Bahrain, Dubai or some other seemingly remote place, while working to perfect one or another aspect of his game or seeking to mend ailing tendons. Then he would pop up at a tournament, often needing to first play in the qualies to earn a spot in the draw. He would greet me as if he had seen me just yesterday.
What probably stands out most to me was the second round of this year’s French Open. I was scheduled to play him in the last match of the day. It was ten or twelve minutes from the time we were scheduled to take the court. Per usual, the butterflies had set in. In fact, playing opposite Declan and his unorthodox game always made me more anxious than usual. Knowing me as he did, Dec could really get inside my head, so I feared not only defeat, but what would appear to be defeat at my own hands. I imagined the press next day. “Fell on his sword”. The anxiety intensified because there was as of yet no sign of Declan in the locker room.
I was engaged in a conversation with myself on the subject of focus, interrupted by thoughts of what my friend and opponent was up to anyway, when a third party interrupted in the form of a tournament official stating that I was about to win by default. I would proceed to the next round. And then the major interruption came. Security personnel began to scurry about the stadium as a loud speaker blared, first in French and then English. Everyone was to proceed to the closest exit and leave the stadium and it surrounds. Pretty soon I saw the first bomb squad.
The next day the news media that exploded with the narrative of the bomb threat, stadium evacuation, and elimination of a potentially deadly terrorist cell with connections to Iran. A number of gendarmes were cited for their acts of bravery, but of course the French government gave no indication of how they had learned of the potential attack.
I was still distracted the next day when I arrived at the players’ entrance of Roland Garros Stadium quite early to prepare for a rejiggered schedule. I ran into Declan, who acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. “He was probably on another bender yesterday,” buzzed the locker room undercurrent. About our match? Well I showed why I was the favorite in the first two sets. Easy wins before he took the next two in tie-breakers. Then it was my game that imploded in the fifth set, while Dec held steady. Oh, it hurt. I saw tennis as a modern form of dueling and I was figuratively cut to pieces.
Just a week or so after I had learned of Declan’s death, I sat at breakfast, still shaken by the loss of someone I really cared about. And puzzled over how my friend’s life had suddenly come to an end by drowning. I knew him to have been a strong swimmer. Frustrated as well as saddened, I picked up the newspaper and caught the lead article on the death of an Iranian spy and the speculation that the CIA was responsible. They had thwarted a terrorist attack at Roland Garros Stadium. I then caught the words that Iran claimed retaliation and understood that agent Declan O’Connor had played a much more dangerous game. And the game of tennis was a good foil.
Reader Reviews of Retirement Italiano
Coen's memoir tells a humorous and humble account of realizing that living in an Italy is vastly different than being a tourist.
-Natalie Wulderk, Ambassador Magazine, The National Italian American Foundation
Like many nearing retirement, I fantasized about a second chapter in a foreign land, experiencing all that would have to offer. Terrence Coen's very very funny, insightful and sobering book allowed me to experience what that could be from the comfort of home. From his detailed descriptions of the Borgo, Farnese, the quirky personalities they encountered and the incredible meals, his prose made everything come alive.
-Sharon Rodgers, Westport, CT
The book arrived couple of days ago. I have started to read it but as per your suggestion every time I start I open a bottle of wine so I am sleeping well but progress is limited.
I will send my comments when I have finished both the book and the wine.
-Hal Forrest, Vero Beach, FL
This narrative is easy to read and follow and is made more entertaining by the author's engaging sense of humor.
He interjects enough Italian words and phrases to further give the reader a sense of "being there." And there is a bonus section at the back of the book with Italian recipes presented by Laura Ferrini Coen!
If you've been to Italy you'll want to return after reading this book, and if you haven't been, you'll start making plans to go!
-Bob Kurlychek, Eugene, OR
I loved this story. It's well written and flows beautifully. An enjoyable read.
-Shirley Clark, Gardner, MA
An easy and spiritual read, from page 1 to the end, Retirement Italiano takes a fresh step off the beaten path of retirement, bringing to life a part of Italy that I think the average American has not witnessed or experienced. Coen combines wit and wonder, with a seemingly sardonic smile to boot, and the adventure is chalked full of all the elements of a great story - a classic villian (La Signora), enjoyable characters (Domenico, Alonzo, Nikki), and a satisfying resolution.
If you have ever dreamed of living, working, or even traveling through Italy, this book certainly provides a great perspective. I would recommend this to anyone.
-Ivy M Ottmar, Amazon User
What a great story and idea for how to fund your retirement trips. Terry has a great sense of humor and his adventures and misadventures are told in a way for all to enjoy. It provides a great insight into the daily life and routines in Italy.
A must for anyone traveling to Italy, especially those willing to explore outside the standard large cities.
Can't wait to try Laura's recipes that are included at the end of the book.
-Kayaking Cruiser, Amazon User
I really like the way Terry tells both the good and the bad things that can happen when you explore new places. He is genuine in sharing how the experiences made him feel and so it felt to me the reader like I was there with him. We like to travel and so it felt like an encouragement to us to be bold, go explore, and learn more by not just being a tourist, but get to know the people. And I really liked how Terry shared his joy of Italy with his family and friends.
He was like a coach, more than a travel guide. So, yes I like the book and it is a great read. Thank you Terry.
-Bob Ferro, Amazon User
Reads like the author is sitting in your living room talking to you.
Having visited the area in Italy that the author writes about was like looking through my photograph album. If the reader has never been to that part of the country, Terrences’ descriptions would have them putting it on their bucket list. An enjoyable read ,will make you smile and not want to die slowly.
-Anonymous Amazon Review
Humorous and flavorful accounts of the “real” Italy, off the typical tourist’s well-worn path. Italy as it used to be!
-Anonymous Amazon Review
Mr. Coen's book had me laughing and smiling all the way through. Even as he shares some of the more challenging situations during their exploits in Italy, his expressions and good humor make it a fantastically fun read.
I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in achieving a more authentic overseas experience. You'll learn and laugh as the author brings you along to the quaint Italian village of Farnese, Italy.
Thank you Mr. Coen! Your book raised my spirits and entertained me throughout.
-Michael W. Schimpf, Amazon User
The author leads the reader on a hilarious and poignant personal journey to establish a country retreat for adventurous travelers in search of the true secrets of Italian rural life and cuisine. As you learn of this American and his Italian wife's trials and tribulations, you become immersed in the life of this remote Italian village with a host of colorful characters and daunting challenges. You will find moments when you can almost taste the wine and smell the garlic and olive oil laid out on the large kitchen table . . . Buon Appetito!
-Sally Tirado, Amazon User
When facing retirement, the author, Terrance Coen, took Dylan Thomas's advice ... "do not go gentle into that good night"...
Instead, he and wife Laura embarked on an Italian adventure that most of us only dream about.
"Retirement Italiano", is soaked in Italian flavors. It's a cleaver, funny, personal account of life as an American innkeeper, in a small Italian village, 62 miles from Rome.
Terrence Coen wraps the reader in the daily essence of Italian life, an experience missed by most tourists.
The author invites us in to meet his neighbors, savor the food, wine and bounty of Italy, all while sharing his innkeepers duties in a wonderfully satirical way.
"Retirement Italiano", is a celebration of life and things that matter at any age. A must read for anyone visiting Italy by plane, boat or armchair. Readers will benefit, and thanks to Mr. Coen's generosity, UNICEF will benefit too.
-Lazyjane, Amazon User
Ever have a fantasy running a B&B in Italy? Well Terrence Coen and his wife Laura have done it and he details this adventure in this very personal account. In his relaxed, informal style he tells the story of how they arranged to manage a B&B for an Italian owner.
A great bonus is the appendix which includes recipes presented by Laura Ferrini Coen. And all profits go to charity! A triple winner!
-Ann G, Amazon User
Makes you want to get your passport out and travel to Italy.
-Starfish, Amazon User
Reader Feedback to the Author
It arrived today and rearranged my day. Once I opened it, I just wanted to read on and on. It has your voice, so I felt you were telling me about the magical place and I so loved your wry humor. I'll keep at it this evening.
What a wonderful adventure. An entertaining and informative read.
Thank you for such an enchanting book!
I have started the book. Very enjoyable.
Ahhh...I can't wait to relive the wonderful time visiting you and Laura; and the at-home feeling walking down the cobblestone hill for a morning cappuccino, in a courtyard surrounded by Italian voices! Certainly every American's fantasy!
Congratulations on completing and publishing your book. Many people start to write. Very few carry it to completion. I finished reading it last night and enjoyed your insights into Italian style and culture.
Francoise is deep into it right now, and enjoying your humor. My day will come!
Just finished reading RETIREMENT ITALIANO. I didn't want it to end. It was delightful, and I laughed so much. Sandy kept asking what was funny, and then pleading with me to hurry and finish. Farnese sounded like such a lovely, little town as well as the surrounding areas. Gee, I hope you will write more soon!!
I'm making some of the recipes and enjoying them.
Just finished your wonderful book. Congrats on telling the story of your adventure so well. Made me want to dust off our passports and go back to Italy. What a great experience for you and Laura and your family as well. Someday your grandchildren will sit with their children and share the book and relive the experience of their "cool great grandparents". In reading your book I saw a screenplay unfolding: Adventurous Americans living in paradise face the evil La Signore but triumph in the end. Going to ask Vivyan to try some of Laura's recipes. Thanks for sharing your great experience.
Live on the Shagbag radio show
October 12, 2019 - MONTEREY, CA - Terry joined the crew from the Shagbag Show for a live broadcast from the Del Monte Golf Course Grill this Saturday morning. The show broadcasts each Saturday morning at 9 AM on 1460 AM and 101.1 FM KION, www.shagbagshow.com.
Featured in Ambassador Magazine
October, 2019 - The National Italian American Foundation recommended Retirement Italiano in Ambassador Magazine's Fall Issue, Vol. 3, No. 31.
Read the write-up on page 65 of the digital magazine.
Press Release - First Book Signing Event
MONTEREY, CA, February 7, 2019 - Local author Terrence Coen will be doing a book signing on Sunday afternoon, February 17th at River House Books, 208 Crossroads Boulevard, Carmel between 2 and 4 pm.
Coen’s book records the author’s journey from life defined by a career in the information industry and the social circles of suburbia to an Italian village, population 1602, caught in bit of a time warp.
The book takes the reader to an Italy that the average tourist seldom experiences. Think of it as a view from the inside out. The narrative reflects observations and reflections, especially upon the many interesting characters.
Most impressions were favorable, often delightful. A few others were not. In fact, the narrative has an antagonist, who at times kept the writer on edge and threatened to abort the whole experience.
Discover an Italy hard to know from a typical tour or travel guide. For more information, visit https://www.terrencecoen.com or Terry's Amazon Author Page.
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