NaDaizja inside of the Palais de l’Élysée.
My name is NaDaizja Bolling and I am a senior at Syracuse University. I am enrolled in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics as well as the College of Arts and Sciences. I am a double major, studying Public Health and African American Studies, and I have a minor in Medical Anthropology. I believe firmly that my development in each subject field is enhancing me as the type of human being that is well-suited to deal with people in a clinical health setting, and my Paris Noir experience has expanded upon this idea even further. Paris Noir is a five week long study abroad program in it’s 15th year that was created by and is lead by the Syracuse University Professor Dr. Janis Mayes. The two-course program centralizes black life, art and culture, and has additionally taught me lessons on life, identity, the value of rigorous academics, and moreover, the intersection of all of these things within an individual, an idea, a community, a country, and humankind. To shed light on some of these ideas, I want to share a few words about the eye-opening experience that I had visiting the Palais de l’Élysée with my cohort, my professor, teaching assistant, and special friends of Paris Noir.
On Tuesday, June 30th, we were granted entry to the Palais de l’Élysée—the French equivalent to our White House—with a private tour and the opportunity for a lengthy conversation with two of the President’s advisors. We arrived at the Palace confident that we belonged there. But, for a while, we stood beyond the guarded road, roasting in the intense heat of that 95-degree day, unable to convince the guards that we were scheduled to be there. It wasn’t until our professor arrived that security let us walk up to the gates of the President’s home and office. I will try to express how satisfying of a feeling that was by saying this: I felt important, and even quite privileged for a moment. I found myself enamored with the confidence that I was somehow worthy of entry to a location of so much prestige.
When our guided visit was over, we were met at a large oval table by the French Overseas Departments and Territories advisors. Though they had long job descriptions, an important aspect I found was that they worked with people in France from the country’s overseas territories in order to solve crises manifested by the pursuit of acclimating to the French mainland’s customs, rules and regulations. The tone of this conversation made it known that our visit was not superficial. Rather, it helped to enhance our understanding of the Noir in Paris Noir.
As for our actual tour…
Art in the waiting room of the “French White House”.
Our tour guide walked us to the first point of interest, the waiting room, that is, the waiting room for the president’s guests. The immaculate chandeliers twinkled with every glimpse of sunlight they received, accenting the old artwork displayed on most of the waiting room’s walls. The piece that I became most fascinated by is one depicting two men; one older looking white man, a king I think, beside a younger looking black man. I don’t have an art background whatsoever, but I still was able to make a few observations. Both men were painted on the most upfront layer, both well dressed, and neither washing away the other’s presence. After having recently visited the Louvre where we learned of roles of black people in paintings from centuries ago (mostly minor roles), this one was astonishing to me, and fitting for the occasion. No, none of us are national presidents—yet—but at the moment we were in the same space as France’s president, the same layer. That was a huge accomplishment, and a huge testament to the quality and success of Paris Noir and the students who experience it.
Marble mantel inside of a meeting room.
Perhaps I am speaking for myself, but there is no question that I have been in situations where my value and my presence are questioned, presumably because of my age, my gender, and the pigmentation of my skin. In some stores, for instance, my ego has outweighed my sense, leading me to buy things that I ought not to, just to prove that I could, all so that particular store associates would understand that their profiling of me is wrong. But, here I was, in the Palais de l’Élysée, now standing in front of a twenty million dollar marble and gold mantel, that no place I’ve ever been in could offer, and my fixation with its beauty was not met with a “can I help you?” or “that’s a bit on the pricey side,” which have in the past left me embarrassed to have seen it in the first place.
Another example of the beautiful decor throughout the Palais de l’Élysée.
We walked through a meeting room, where the president and his staff all had designated seats at the table. We learned, for example, that the closer the seat was to the president, the more important your role was in his governance. We even got a kick out of the guys in our group being assigned seats and mock governmental roles. The rest of our tour was met with more glamorous, vintage-y décor, and the histories behind some of the palace’s architecture, artwork and space utility. Our visit was fun, indeed, but that’s not to say that there wasn’t an expectation for us to learn and interact as much as possible while there. That said, the inclusion of French politics into the understanding of Paris Noir has healthily complicated some thoughts, but has clarified others. It is my hope that this year’s cohort left an upstanding impression on the staff and administrators that we engaged with so that future students can continue what is hopefully a new tradition and long-lasting legacy of Paris Noir.