A Past January Inauguration Day in Sicily Spurs Hope for Future

Gray skies above Catania, Sicily, in January

A few years back–twelve, to be exact–I was adjusting to an unfamiliar climate and culture. Less than two weeks off the plane in Catania, I was still in shock at Sicily–a far cry from any Italy I had known. When the dark clouds blew in, carrying with them sands from northern Africa, and the gray skies let loose a deluge–well, it was wet. But not wintery.

Only I, the crazy American with a bright purple umbrella, was out and about when Sicilians were inside.

Gray skies above the Chiesa di San Benedetto, Catania, Sicily, in January

My mission at the end of the teaching day, representing the US in higher education as a Fulbrighter: to find a gym and a public television. The first was for indoor exercise. The second–more important and much more memorable–to catch a glimpse of Barak Obama’s inauguration.

Leather boots and wool pants soaked, and smelling only as wet leather and wet wool do, I made my way into the first lit establishment amenable to women and with a screen on the world news.

The energy in DC as Obama spoke swept through the airwaves as easily as the Sciroccan sands. In a word–electrifying.

I sat mesmerized, eyes on the screen in amazement and almost disbelief. A few locals could tell. Of course, they had heard me order (and likely pitied my forlorn, lonely, wet dog look), but I recall how they took liberty to break my rapture. What did I think of Obama and his election?

There is hope, I responded in my poor Italian. There is hope for the future.

There is hope, I responded in my poor Italian. There is hope for the future. They understand those simple words better than the barista understood my drink order.

Indeed, the question was posed repeatedly in the days that followed. And my response remained the same.

But the January rains, fortunately, changed. And the sun shone brilliantly on the snows of Etna. I hope the clouds hanging over today’s inauguration soon pass as well and that the sun will shine with warmth and peace among us.

Sunshine on Mt. Etna, January view from Catania

I’ll be writing more about how Sicily and the Fulbright teaching months influenced my book project Engaging Italy in my upcoming newsletters and blogs. I would love to have you subscribe, if you have not already. Use the subscription box here, or send me a message through social media, and l’ll add you to the list.

Etta Madden


  1. Joan C. Young on January 24, 2021 at 3:03 pm

    After a very destructive four years of our now departed president, your words “There is hope for the future” are again applicable because our new president is a completely different kind of person. He is a decent human being who cares about our country and its people and actually knows how to run a country and to work with other countries with integrity.

    • Etta Madden on January 24, 2021 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks for latching on to those words of “hope for the future”–I so want to look forward rather than back, as I am sure you do! Of course, many of my writings involve memories of past experiences. But in this instance, the memory was of how hopeful I felt in 2009 listening to Obama’s inaugural speech.
      Your response reminds me of how many people there are who remain optimistic about positive changes. So glad you “spoke up” by writing after reading and reflection.

  2. Shawn Young on January 25, 2021 at 8:48 am

    Italy. Memories of a tour back during my days in the army band.

    I teared up when Obama was inaugurated.

    • Etta Madden on January 26, 2021 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks reading and replying, Shawn. Amazing how those moments can overwhelm us, huh? I’d like to know more about when and where you played in Italy. So many Americans I know experienced Italy through the military . . . I have heard some interesting stories.