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 California Scrub Jays or Western Scavenger Blues. Unflattering names, more reflective of their behavior than their sleek good looks. Handsomest are Stella’s Jays, but they don’t come on a regular basis. The Jays are hardly scavenging now, but rather feasting on carefully selected, especially recommended bird food or their seemingly 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 lite 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 now days the back yard would make a fitting subject for Claude Monet. Centered about a stone work, a small water fall 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 illusion 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 finch 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 fire pit. 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 watcher tour boats. A very different world.
The hummingbirds don’t go to the feeder. They don’t need to. They feed off the white and the 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 flitting 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 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, which allows them 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 of Thomas Aquinas, the Natural Law and the magnificent design in the universe.
Even this little speck of universe.
A Year Later
Mid-May and the garden is abloom. Birds frequent the feeder to our enjoyment. The squirrels tightrope along the power lines, switching their tails side to side. Balancing like circus performers.
The birds change the garden from a photo to a delightful video. The squirrels entertain, but we can take them or leave them, and they are not welcomed to eat from the feeder.
Deterring them had been a constant problem until the wise old-timer at the hardware store recommended coating the pole that supports the feeder with a product inappropriately named Bird.B.Gone, a gelatinous, gooey substance originally designed to discourage birds from nesting.
“It will discourage them from shimming up to the feeder,” he confidently declared.
It worked, and it does them no harm other than forcing them to scamper about in search of food elsewhere. It functioned without incident for over a year until that spring morning.
That sunny, lazy morning we watched as first the Blues breakfasted early, as aggressively as they always do. Then followed the smaller birds, until it seemed all were satisfied and ready to go about whatever they were to do for the remainder of the day.
Since the hummingbirds had finished sipping flower nectar and bathing in the mini pond, I decided it was time to get on with my day.
“Oh. Look. Look quickly, a woodpecker. First one.”
I turned back to the window just as the beautiful creature was about to alight on the feeder. Woodpeckers had always been special for me. My earliest memories are of Great Aunt Dal coming from the city with birthday presents. She told me the woodpecker left them for me. The woodpecker was very special. My bird. Unlike Santa Claus, who brought presents to all children who behaved themselves, the woodpecker only brought presents for me. Some Native Americans might have seen him as my spirit bird.
“Oh, he is stuck. Do something. Quick, quick! “
Probably to check it out, he had landed sideways on the vertical pole that suspended the feeder and could not free himself. Why? None of the other birds did that. Still in pajamas, I hurried out the back door and up the little hill to try and help the entrapped creature, hoping he would free himself and fly off.
Up close, I was stunned at how regal the bird looked. I had never been this close to a woodpecker. The crowned head, a brilliant red, contrasted so starkly with the white and black body. His penetrating gaze focused on me. It seemed to suggest betrayal.
Obviously, my presence added to his fright. No way was I able to calm him. He flapped his wings rapidly until like both feet, one got stuck on the pole. His efforts to free himself had the same effect as Br’er Rabbit punching the tar baby. I needed to free him without hurting him.
Carefully, I reached under him and tried to gently slide him off the pole. I could feel his rapid heartbeat. Instructions shouted from the house increased my anxious, helpless feeling. Probably his too. Then the noise from the house was drowned out by the staccato sounds of large black birds gathering on the cable wires that were suspended over the garden. And over me.
More birds came. Their cawing grew louder. I remembered the unforgettable Hitchcock film. They appeared to be crows but maybe ravens. I didn’t think so, but ravens made me think of Poe. Was I staring to feel a bit of nerves? I reminded myself that both dealt in fiction.
Now “Be careful. Watch out. Hurry,” came from the open window along with instructions as to how I was to free the poor bird.
It didn’t take that long. It just felt like it did. Slowly, I freed him and softly placed him on the ground beneath a flowering impatient plant. Would he be alright? Be able to recover and fly? The whole thing shook me a bit as I wondered if I had betrayed the special bird of my early childhood. Silly, be real, I said to myself, but the thought persisted.
Somewhere a fuzzy recollection of the woodpecker as a symbol of change entered my mind. Not happy change. In Eastern cultures, ominous change. After all just two days earlier, I had entered my ninth decade and it was still top of mind. On top of that the whole world was reeling with the COVID-19 pandemic. The cawing grew louder as, uncomfortably, I returned to the house.
After showering, breakfast and sharing my feelings with my wife, I returned to the garden to be sure the woodpecker had managed to get away. He had. But the crows had not.
The next day I ventured into the garden thinking all had returned to normal. Pretty soon the cable wire was shaking from the weight of about a dozen crows looking down at me. Cawing at me. Working to keep my imagination in check, I went back into the house.
Eventually they left. The garden was quiet again, but no other birds came back. Not for over a week.
But now they have returned. And my neighbor told me he has seen the woodpecker.
Hopefully the same woodpecker.
A Good Foil
It scarcely made the e-news. It wasn’t the kind of news that would pop up on your smart phone as if it were Roger Federer or even a mid-ranked player. Declan O’Connor was, at least at this 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 it did not dedicate a great deal of space, it did mention the corpse found in the river and assumed death from drowning. It did include highlights of his life and career.
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 round of sixteen in the Moscow Open. He had been scheduled to play an exhibition in Iran as part of a diplomatic effort to help thaw relationships with the US.
He 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 unflinchingly 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 with some of us, 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, a number of 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 can 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 corner back 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. Often resulting in the opponent challenging the call only to be overruled and frustrated. He took a very cerebral approach to the game. Saw each match as one would a chess match. 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 the adversaries’ rhythm. Such an ability to get inside his opponent’s head, which led to surprising mistakes or—in tennis talk—unforced errors.
And kinda strange: He did not seem to obtain much satisfaction from his 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 breakup. No discernible sadness or disappointment that he shared with me. But there was a point, not too 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 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 canceled 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.
Then there were times when he would just absent himself from the tour for months at a time. 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, as if he had seen me just yesterday.
What probably stands out most to me was the second round of the next year’s French Open, because I was scheduled to play him in the last match of the day. And what a day that turned out to be. 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. The security personnel began to scurry about the stadium as a loudspeaker blared, first in French and then English. Everyone was to proceed to the closest exit and leave the stadium and its surrounds. Pretty soon I saw the first bomb squad.
Next day it was 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, when 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 the next two in tie breakers. Then it was my game that imploded in the fifth set, while Dec held steady.
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 and had thwarted a terrorist attack at Roland Garros Stadium. I then caught the words that Iran claimed retaliation. And then I understood. I understood the unexplained absences and the politically expedient marriage. Tennis seemed trivial compared to the larger game that Declan O’Connor played.
Life Has Its Ups and Downs
“Mornin.” He said with a polite nod.
It was more of a mutter than a greeting, and there was no effort to make eye contact.
“K, up we go… Weird sound. It stopped. I’ll hit the button ... Nothin. It just stopped. We’re stuck here between floors.”
“Well, let’s try the intercom.”
“Hello. Hello! Anybody there fer cris sake? Hey the elevator stopped. The elevator must a broke. Ansa please!”
“This is building services. How can I be of service?”
“We’re stuck in this elevator. It made loud noises and then it just stopped. Kablam!”
“Which elevator car are you in?”
“How would I know. And it is kinda dark in here.”
“Ok. Just stay there”
“Huh? You tryin ta be funny or somtin?”
“I am contacting engineering. This may take a bit”
“This is exasperating. Excuse me, but I have an important meeting to attend. In fact, I should be there right now. I am going to hold the building management responsible for this. This can be very costly for me. Somebody will have to pay for this. And besides, I am perhaps a bit claustrophobic. This is absolutely unacceptable. Do you hear what I am saying?”
“Easy, Suit. He musta gone fer help. We’re just goin ta have ta hang here an wait. Ya know what I mean. No problem. Anyways, fer me, I’m on the clock.”
“Well the only clock I have to do with is a meeting that should have started minutes ago. There is no way I can miss this. Don’t you understand?” This is critical. Absolutely critical. “
“Sorry, Suit. Let’s stay cool, huh? You must do private equity or some other a that stuff. Hate ta see someone lose a chance to make a buck or more. Ya know what I mean?”
“I am not ‘Suit’. I am Donaldson Farmington III, Harvard ‘98, thank you. Let’s try the building man again. No way can I miss this meeting.”
“Hello down there Building Services, I have an important meeting that I must be at. You need to have this fixed post haste... No response at all.”
“Hold your water, Suit. A buck is a buck, but don’t get all worked up about i’. Jeez ya are sweatn like a pig.”
“Doubt you would understand. Let’s just keep after the building chap. And ‘Donaldson’ will do, thank you.”
“Yeah ok, Donnie. And by the way, I’m Frank, Frank Waffers, Midwood High. No Graduation number though.P leased to be meetin. I guess.”
“How long is that fellow going to take?”
“Relax, Donnie, ya whimpering. We’ll get outa here soon. No sweat. So what ya meetin about? Maybe a hostile take over or some a that kinda stuff, eh?”
“I wish that’s what it was about. I am beside myself because my wife is in critical need of a blood transfusion. It is a matter of hours and that is what this meeting was to be about. Her blood type is the rarest, AB negative. Only about .06 percent of the American population has that type. And now I’ve missed the meeting and the blood supply will have gone to someone else. I fear I will lose her and the baby too.”
The elevator lights come back on.
“Do you think it will start to rise?”
“Na. I hit the down button. I am AB negative. What hospital? My Harley is parked on the first level.
They had expected a boy to be named Donaldson Farmington IV. It didn’t work out that way. Instead they named him Francis Waffers Farmington. They named him after his adoring godfather.
Life on Planet Earth; Unintended Consequences
“Please, Grandfather, tell me more about what life was like on planet earth.”
“Well, I can only tell you so much. I lived on earth until just before my twenty-eighth birthday. But earth may be 4.5 billion years old and there has been evidence of humans living there over 200,000 years ago.”
“But you did spend years there and I think you must have an idea of what it was like before you were born.”
“Yes, I did, and I do. I can tell you it wasn’t altogether good. Good for some but not for everyone. Actually, not good for most although it did improve significantly over time. Perhaps a bit because mankind learned to consider the wellbeing of his fellow man, but mostly because of scientific advances that made life easier. Made life more comfortable for many.”
“If life was becoming more comfortable for many people, Grandfather, why did people leave and come to Musk? I mean Mars. That’s what you called it at first, right?”
“Different reasons. From here the planet earth looks pretty much like one place and you would think things would be the same all over. Very homogenous? But that wasn’t really the case. People on different parts of the planet had different ideas about how things were and how they should be…even people in the same parts of the planet had different ideas.”
“You mean like with the Covids?”
“That is one example. But just one, although it was responsible for removing the people who lived on certain parts of the planet.”
“Well, 19 was bad but governments eventually came up with ways to manage life in spite of it. Yet in some parts of the planet, people resented the government telling them how to live so they went about their business paying no attention to government proclamations. They went so far as to aggressively defy their government. They started a revolution and it turned out that because they revolted, they ultimately killed themselves. But that only occurred in some parts of earth where some people prized freedom above the health and wellbeing of their fellow man. And it turned out they prized it beyond their own health and wellbeing. Really dumb. Selfish.”
“But didn’t they find a cure for the Covid, grandfather?”
“They did, but it took a while. Years, because the germ kept morphing. And the sad thing is that the government that found the cure, I think it was for COVID-22, would not share it with some of the other governments for some of the other people.”
“I think I know about that. Wasn’t that what they called Darwinian? Named after President Charles Darwin?”
“Charles Darwin wasn’t a president, love. He was a scientist, a naturalist, who at an earlier time developed the theory that all species develop through a natural selection and that inherited variations increase the individual’s ability to survive. In a way they compete.”
“You should have learned who Darwin was and what his theory was about in school, young lady.”
“Might be fun, I guess, but there isn’t time for that. School is to get us ready for life. To have a career. How could I find time for that with learning to code and doing finance and the sciences to help make life here on Musk more habitable. Isn’t that Darwin stuff one of those silly things like creative writing that they used to do in schools and call liberal arts?"
“Yes, dear it is. They did. May have had a place, though. Helping people to understand themselves and others. Helping them to think better.”
“Yeah. I heard, Grandfather. I think someone said we should study history so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”
“But tell me, why did you leave earth and come here to Musk? I mean Mars.”
“Well, sweetheart, my part of earth became uninhabitable. As I said people who even lived on the same parts of earth had different ideas about things and had trouble accepting other points of view. Sometimes it involved major issues like how God wanted to be treated or the Individuals’ right to say things or do things with their bodies. Other times it was what would seem to be much less significant, such as what you should eat. I think your great grandfather saw it coming apart at a celebration for his wedding.
He and your great grandmother wanted to prepare a meal that all their guests, their friends and families would enjoy as a way to share in their own joy. It really proved hard. As many had different beliefs. Some were considering themselves to be Paleo and only would eat lean meat and vegetables. No starches or sweets for them. For other everything had to be Kosher. On your great grandmother’s side they loved ethnic food, which meant pastas and processed meats, and that would not work for the paleo folks. Also a problem for more than a few gluten free guests. There also were some that were what they called ketogenic, which were very, very limited in what they would eat. And there were vegans and vegetarians. Plus others were Mediterranean dieters and others that I heard about but don’t recall. Maybe gluten free vegans or some other combinations. It pretty much destroyed the joy of my parents wedding day.
Over time and because of fear of the Covids, there was a kind of Darwinian approach to what people would eat. I was only in grade school when it appeared that the vegans were healthier and more disease resistant than the followers of other food persuasions. We and most others stopped eating meat and would have nothing to do with milk or cheese. Not even ice cream.
So butcher shops closed. Poultry farmers eventually received a stimulus package from the government and closed up. Pig farmers sold off their inventories to pet shops and dairy farmers and ranchers fled the countryside with many establishing hedge funds and private equity firms. That is when the problems really started.
The herds multiplied, running wild and overcoming rural America before making their way into the cities. At first just the grocery stores and restaurants were overrun but eventually they bulldozed residential units. Here too it was kind of Darwinian. The cow species became more aggressive. Necessary for survival. Their survival.”
“That must have been frightening. To think you were just a child, too.”
“It was. To this day I sometimes wake up during the night and feel that the ground is shaking and giving way beneath me. Then I fall back to sleep only to wake up again imagining I hear the sirens signaling another stampede. I struggle to remember how to get to the nearest shelter.
But then when I am fully awake, I recall how after 57 days of steady stampeding we hustled over to Elon’s and bought tickets on the space shuttle. Tickets for our survival.”
“So glad you did, grandfather.”
Shortly after grandfather explained why he left the planet earth and migrated to the planet that at the time was called Mars, the earth exploded in a gigantic ball of fire and disappeared from the universe. The fire was so bright that it was easily observed from Musk as the planet Mars was now known. The event evoked another conversation between granddaughter and a very saddened grandfather.
“Did you see the initial explosion, Grandfather.”
"Yes, but I am at a loss to understand the why of it. Not that I ever expected to return there. After all, the planet with all my memories had been entirely overrun with the cows. At the time when COVID-19 hit the planet there were something like 1.3 to 1.5 billion cows on the planet. But as the vegetarians and vegans gained force, the cow population did increased exponentially. I have to wonder how many bovine creatures were roaming the planet before it disappeared.
I wonder. Was it struck by a meteor?”
“No, Grandfather, I believe it eventually combusted because it became so hot. We studied climate change in class, Grandfather. The curriculum is designed so that we on Musk do not make the same mistakes that were made on earth. We learned that when scientists on earth last analyzed what they called greenhouse gases they determined that 14.5% came from methane gas and…”
“But that was back in the time of COVID-19. And COVID-19 and the subsequent Covids reduced the amount of greenhouse gases as people stayed home more and reduced the amount of pollution caused by fossil fuels.”
“True, Grandfather, but the methane gas increased. Scientists declared that the threat of global warming had not been stemmed, but the politicians said the whole idea was nonsensical. There was one exception. In the country that was called New Zealand, the government proposed a flatulence tax, but that struck fear in the hearts of many politicians all across the planet. They used the Internet to influence the election and vote the tax down. They were concerned about their own hot air, which was in an abundance.
And the methane gas continued to increase exponentially. It was determined that the average cow emitted 70 to 120 Kg of methane a day.”
“Oh, dear princess, to think that once beautiful planet ended in total devastation because of unmitigated cow farts.”
“I am afraid so, grandfather.”
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.
Thank you to all from UNICEF
November 29, 2019
Thank you to all of you who purchased Retirement Italiano. This message from UNICEF below is for all of you. Below that, you will find a longer letter note from me.
Happily sales of Retirement Italiano copies have hit four figures and while not a huge number, expenses have been met and contributions to UNICEF are $2376.10. That is somewhat fulfilling but hopefully not the end. It would be great to see it grow. And with help I believe it can.
You can help in a number of ways:
If you read the book and enjoyed it, please pass the word on to your friends and contacts. Or think of it as a Christmas gift for some of them.
If you enjoyed the book and have not already done so, please add a review on Amazon (currently averaging four plus stars).
And if you haven’t read the book please give a try.
A Note from the Author
November 14, 2019
Like most, I look for purpose. Those of you who read Retirement Italiano or even just the preview on Amazon know how fortunate I was to fill the void created by retiring without any sort of plan. Living in a foreign culture and engaging in a small business (very small) gave me an exciting new purpose and, in spite of the obstacles encountered, an equally exciting sense of fulfillment. And then a new purpose in creating the book about our “Adventures and Misadventures” living in the small Italian village. For me, the writing was challenging and at times frustrating, but it provided purpose and when I was finally able to hold the book in my hand, a pleasant sense of fulfillment.
Then a friend who has done several books congratulated me and commented that as difficult as producing a book is, selling the book is just that much harder. I understood him to be correct and realized I had a new purpose. After all, if you feel something is worth writing a book about, you do want people to read it.
I knew my kids would be quick to go to Amazon and place some initial orders, but I felt compelled to give them copies. And give one to my brother, Mick. After all he had been my first audience decades ago, when against our vigorous protests, our parents declared bedtime and “inprisoned” us in the bedroom we shared with my grandfather. To pass the time until sleep set in, I would invent stories of kids whose lives weren’t restrained by proper parenting.
If I gave a book to Mick I should do the same for my sisters and then what about the many friends who had helped and encouraged me. All that would add to the expenses already encountered. An idea hit me. No amount of royalties could change my life at this point in life, so why not add a new purpose to book sales. Once expenses were covered all royalties would go to UNICEF to aid displaced and impoverished children. And no way Mick would want me to donate a copy of the book to him.
So now I have the best new purpose yet. Happily sales of Retirement Italiano copies have hit four figures and while not a huge number, expenses have been met and contributions to UNICEF are $2376.10. That is somewhat fulfilling but hopefully not the end. It would be great to see it grow. And with help I believe it can.
You can help in a number of ways:
If you read the book and enjoyed it, please pass the word on to your friends and contacts. Or think of it as a Christmas gift for some of them.
If you enjoyed the book and have not already done so, please add a review on Amazon (currently averaging four plus stars).
And if you haven’t read the book please give a try.
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.
Photos from Book Shops and Local Touring
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