French Connection

SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –

Art de Vivre. The art of living (a wonderful life, of course). But is there any mystical tool or kind of da Vinci code that can unlock life and free us from its mundaneness? Frank Bidart, it seems, has found one, and can be sensed somewhere in or between these lines: “… drugged to sleep by repetition of the diurnal round/ the monotonous sorrow of the finite/ within I am awake/ repairing in dirt the frayed immaculate thread/ forced by being to watch the birth of suns…” Hmm, there is a possibility, after all!
Of course, there are simpler means to outwitting the meaningless daily grind that we have come to misinterpret as life. For instance, appreciating and understanding the amazing cultural diversity across peoples of the world could certainly lead us effortlessly to living a fulfilling life. It is in this context that the Sultanate’s participation in this year’s Paris Book Fair as a special guest assumes a lustrous dimension.
Several cultural events that highlight the richness of the Sultanate’s culture and civilisation are being hosted at the ongoing book fair. They include Omani folklore-based performance by the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, poetry evenings, sale of Omani publications translated into French, screening of exciting documentaries on the history and culture of the Sultanate, seminars on Oman-French relations, discussions involving French and Omani intellectuals and publishers centred on Omani culture and a session on Oman’s rich archaeological treasures and its protection.
Talks on “The Arabic and French Languages: Two Way Influence” by Hassan al Ramadani, “The Diversity of Poetry and Literature in Oman and its Development” by Said al Saqlawi, Chairman of the Omani Society for Writers and Literati, and “The Pillars of Culture and Values of Knowledge in Oman” by Dr Aisha al Darmakiya, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Cultural Club, are sure to create better awareness among the French people about the enduring cultural legacy and wealth of Oman.
Significantly, back in Oman, a parallel French cultural event — the French Week in Oman — is in full swing offering a mélange of cultural programmes touching the spectacular aspects of French culture, cuisine and luxury, among others.
Beyond cultural aspects, the French Week aims to deepen bilateral business ties, especially in the transport and logistics, energy, water and project financing sectors. The week also witnessed the re-launch of the Oman-French Joint Business Council.
The cultural, academic and economic relations between Oman and France have been getting stronger over the years. Today, the Sultanate is one of the most favoured tourist destinations for French travellers, with the number of French visitors to the Sultanate logging a steady increase in the last few years. This is mainly attributed to the successful promotional campaigns launched in France by Oman’s Ministry of Tourism in recent times.
It may be noted that tourism arrivals to Oman is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 13 per cent between 2018 and 2021, going by data released by the Arabian Travel Market 2018, while Oman will be welcoming 720,000 European tourists by 2023. A significant number of those visitors will be from France along with Germany. As many as 210,000 Omanis will be travelling to Europe by the same year, and of course, France could be a popular choice.
Journée internationale de la Francophonie (International Francophonie Day) is around the corner, and is celebrated across the 77 member countries of the Organisation International de la francophonie (OIF) when rich tributes are paid to the French language and francophone culture. In the Sultanate too, the Francophonie Day is celebrated with great enthusiasm.
The Centre Franco-Omanais (CFO), established in 1979 under a bilateral co-operation agreement between the two countries, has been promoting the French language and culture in Oman, through diverse academic and cultural programmes. Annually well over a thousand students — young and old — learn the French language at the CFO centres in Muscat and Suhar.
The Sultanate’s French connection stretches back to the 1660s when maritime trade relations between the two countries blossomed. Later, the then Sultan of Oman signed a Trade and Friendship Treaty with France in 1844, greatly expanding bilateral trade, which was followed by the historic expedition of the Omani merchant ship La Caroline, which marked a milestone in the marine trade between them. Bilateral trade between the two countries has been maintaining a strong growth momentum over the years.