Because my Schokolade is Beautiful– In Europe Too….
by Erica Papillion-Posey
As an African American, I like to think that I am pretty well travelled and cultured. I categorically love Europe. Some places better than others but on the whole- I tease my husband often saying, “If you die today, I’m in Europe tomorrow.” Europe has always treated African Americans and our talents with a level of respect still not matched by the United States. From the love shown to the great Josephine Baker by Parisians to the migration of jazz greats to all parts of Europe in the fifties and sixties to the success of African American operatic artist like the incomparable Grace Bumbry, now residing in Austria, and the under-rated Barbara Hendricks, a Swedish citizen, Europe has been there. It is for this reason that I feel great comfort when navigating Europe— barriers and all.
I remember traipsing through the Bavarian Alpsee with my ladies, yes-ironically the same ladies that you’ve come to know as my fellow Operagasm divarites: Christie Connolley and Melissa Wimbish (I told you we had history). We were headed to Neuschwanstein, the famed Cinderella Castle, in route, along with a contingency of tourists from around the world, I was really P.O.’d because we had not been warned of this tour.
Now if you’ve ever walked the trail to this castle, you know it’s pretty steep terrain so you must, absolutely, wear the proper foot attire or your bunions will be dead on arrival. And because I’m an avid shoe connoisseur who is faithful to the great Shoe Gods, I fully expected them to have foreseen my coming misfortune and intervened— but to no avail. As luck would have it, I was dressed for a stylish, chic, ‘camera ready’ stroll, wearing the cutest wedges and obviously suffered the consequences.
While stopping to take a “damn my feet are killing me break” and conjuring up some of the best southern style expletives I could muster—I heard it…. “Papa, Papa, schokolade, schokolade” shouted in the smallest but clearly audible little German voice. And as if out of a scene from the Matrix, everything stopped then immediately proceeded in slow motion. Needless to say, initially, I was embarrassed, the tourists were mortified and his father was completely and utterly shamed. It was all over his rote face! The child starts pointing and running toward me, his voice escalating, his father trying to bandage the social hemorrhage occurring before his eyes and in that moment—I felt no anger, no offense. I felt acknowledged. You see, the child didn’t look at me with hate, disgust or malice; he looked at me with beauty, inquisitiveness and fascination.
I can’t begin to tell you how much positive feedback I receive from other African American classical artist on their treatment when performing throughout Europe. Not only do many of us get our start across the pond, some even choose to stay on in these distant lands permanently because of the acceptance. To be embraced abroad before being embraced in your own country can be a huge disappointment and sacrifice but is often softened by the gracious European reception and recognition of talent no matter the color. A lot of our careers are made there.
Obviously, these are my own experiences and there are/will be exceptions. So write in, tell me some of your international stories as African American operatic artists. I’d love to hear them and actually, it’s about that time, again, for me too….
I’ll be seeing you soon. Hope you’re ready….Viva Italia!
Erica Papillion-Posey is one of the founders and directors of Operagasm.com. You can learn more about Erica under the ‘About Us’ tab at the top of the page. Her articles are featured on Operagasm.com every other Wednesday. Erica welcomes you to comment on her article or email her privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.