Nepal has an iconic image in French collective psyche: Ambassador Carmona

Yves Carmona is France’s Ambassador to Nepal. Before coming to Kathmandu, Ambassador Carmona was the France’s envoy to Lao from September 2012 until September 2015. He has also served in the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Education of France. He has also taught in the French National School for Administration (ENA) as well as in the Institute for Political Studies in Paris.

Onlinekhabar recently talked to the ambassador on the occasion of Bastille Day and the French National Day, which was observed around the world on Friday. In the conversation, Ambassador Carmona, who comes from an area near Bordeaux, the wine capital of France, talked about the Bastille Day celebrations, how the French people look at Nepal and his favourite Nepali beverage.


During the Democracy Day here in Nepal, a parade is organised in Tundikhel and various other events are organised throughout the day. How do the French people celebrate the Bastille Day and the National Day?

The French people observe the Bastille Day and the National Day on the 14th of July. The day is significant in French history for two reasons. First, it was on July 14, 1789 that the people of Paris stormed the fortress of Bastille, which was a symbol of the monarchy’s oppression. A year later, on the same day the French people gathered at the place where the Bastille used to be to observe the Fête de la Fédération and to honour the French revolution.

If we look at history, there were times when the monarchy came back and the National Day was not observed. We can say that July 14 has been French National Day for 200 years, with some exceptions.

On July 14, a parade is organised at the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. The event is around 2-3 hours long. Every year we invite a foreign dignitary as the main guest of the parade, and this year we invited President Trump. Every year, the President decides which battalion of the French Army will be featured in the parade. The French Air Force also participates in the event. The whole programme is broadcast live on TV 5 (Tv Cinq).

In addition to that, on the eve of July 14, balls are organised in different parts of the country. According to French tradition, it is the fire fighters of the area concerned who organised the balls. The events often go on till late in the night.

How was the National Day observed outside France?

This year, we recorded the live broadcast of the programme and projected it on a screen at an event we organised in Kathmandu to mark the occasion. According to French government policy, it is the duty of all missions to organise an official programme to mark the day. The programme has to be official and dignified and has to be representative of French culture. This year, we had the Vice-president of Nepal attend the programme.

In some missions where I had the opportunity to serve before coming to Nepal, we had many French restaurants in the city and we could organise a big gastronomical party. However, in Kathmandu, the choice is limited.

The French National Day is like a big festival in France. It is said that wine has a special role in any French celebration, and  Mr Ambassador, you are from Bordeaux, the wine capital of France.  

Well, I have very fond memories. First of all, let me be clear, I am not exactly from Bordeaux, my home is a few kilometres outside of Bordeaux. But, Bordeaux wine is not made in the city, it is made in areas outside the city.

You talked about your ‘fond memories’. Could you tells us about them and the wine culture in Bordeaux?

Bordeaux has historically been a trading city. When I was in school and later on attending university, I used to work in vineyards near my home for some cash during the vendanges, the grape-picking season in France, which is around August-September. The schools and colleges would not have started then.

But picking grapes, and working at a vineyard is not an easy job. It’s like transplanting paddy here in Nepal. There is a special atmosphere in the vineyard, people from all over, especially Americans, Gypsies and Spaniards came to work there. During my early years, I picked grapes, but later on I carried them on my back to the tractor. I think it was around the 1960s.

Wine-making is a sophisticated process. It’s not just about the technology and the equipment. Well, that is important too, but it’s also about creativity and experience. These days, there’s lot of chemical analysis that goes into wine-making, and lot of things such as the temperature can be measured. But in the past, there were people who relied on experience and they did it without any kind of measurement.

So wine-making is a sophisticated process. Many people around the world view French culture as ‘sophisticated’. In this regard, is French wine a reflection of the French culture. 

I agree with your vision on this. But I am not chauvinistic about French wine. There are many other good wines. Wine-making is an art, the result we get is obtained from a combination of various factors such as the weather, and the soil. In French, we call this ‘terroir’. Wine made in good terroir is always good. There are some Californian and Spanish wines that fall into this category.

Wine-making is not, however, akin to making a car. You can’t produce it wherever you want it, whenever you want it.

I never wanted to be a part of the wine industry. I just worked there to make money to buy my favourite Beatles record. But I learnt a lot of things by working at vineyard.

You said you learnt a lot of new things while working in vineyards. Have the things you learnt helped you in your diplomatic career?

Haha… good question. But I won’t say that I got interested in diplomacy just because I worked at a vineyard. But I can say two points about that did help me in my career. First, when I was working at the vineyard, I met people who had a different way of life. I had a good time with the Gypsies who set camp to work at the vineyard. They played the guitar, sang and danced.

The second point is not exactly related to wine, but to Bordeaux. As I said earlier, Bordeaux has been a trading town, and when I studied History at the university, I read a lot of old accounting books to understand the trade between Bordeaux and other European cities. Prune was a big commodity then, and prune was exported to many cities around Europe.

These two things may have indirectly helped me become a diplomat. But the idea of taking up diplomacy as a career came later on. There are many people who work at wineries, but they do not become diplomats! (laughs)

Can Nepal take a leaf from the success of Bordeaux wine, especially in the context of the Nepali alcohol, raksi?

Raksi is a strong drink. I have had the opportunity to taste it on various occasions. But the quality was not constant. According to my personal experience, it goes well with Newari food and sweets such as pastries.

Do you think it has the potential to sell in the international market?

Definitely. But for that you need to pay attention to three important things. A few days ago, I was at a restaurant having raksi from a branded bottle. I saw that the drink had 48.5% alcohol. In France and in the EU, you cannot sell drinks with such a high alcohol content, it’s illegal. So raksi will have to be made more mild if it is to be exported to the EU.

The second thing is marketing. We have seen that even products that are not of the best quality sell because of marketing. Marketing is about associating the drink with something else. For example, we had a drink in France that associated it with summer, and young people dancing on the beach. That is the sort of marketing you need.

The third and the most important issue here in Nepal is lab testing. As per my knowledge, Nepal still doesn’t have an internationally-recognised lab that can certify that Nepali products are safe for consumption. That is why many Nepali products such as fruits and vegetables, which are of excellent quality, have not been able to make it to the international market.

Now let’s talk about the cultural ties between France and Nepal, especially tourism. The Annapurna mountain has a special place in the hearts of the French people. Could you tell us why? We’ve also heard that you want to visit Annapurna some day.

Thank you for the question. Mountains are an important part of the lives of the French people. A section of the Alps is in France. Similarly, we have the Pyrenees, the Massif Central and the Vosges. Raising of sheep and cows has been a part of the culture for people in the mountains. Even before tourism came, people in the mountains had a special economy.

When French people finish climbing the mountains in their own country, they want to go higher, and higher means Himalayas, Everest and Annapurna. Similarly, Himalayas means Nepal.

The first-ever successful expedition to a peak above 8,000 m was on Annapurna, and it was carried out by a Frenchman, Maurice Herzog, three years ahead of the Hillary and Norgay’s expedition to Everest. Herzog wrote a best-selling book on his journey, Annapurna, premier 8,000. Many French children read that book, even I read it.

French people have a special place in their heart for the Himalayas. They think that the Himalayas are part of their own culture. They believe that the Himalayas are the heritage of humankind. That is why a group of French climbers recently organised a campaign to clean-up Everest to encourage mountaineers to behave more responsibly and for the Nepali government to do more to keep Everest clean.

In addition to that, French mountaineers have contributed a lot to professionalising mountaineering and they form a distinguished community.

As for me, I do not plan to reach the top of the mountain. During the next autumn season, I would, however, want to reach Base Camp.

There are many French people who come to Nepal and never go to the mountains. They come here for the ancient culture, to see the durbars. They also come here to visit the birthplace of the Shakya Muni, Gautam Buddha. Nepal has become an icon in the collective psyche of the French people.

During the Earthquake in Nepal, of course, there was lot of suffering that the French people were moved by. But they also felt that their own cultural heritage were damaged in the quake. That is why French people are trying their best to help Nepal’s reconstruction.

In the end, what would be the message of the people of France and the government to the people of Nepal, on the occasion of your National Day?

France and Nepal have a lot of similarities. France was in civil war for a long time, and in Nepal also, peace has finally come. France supports the local elections in Nepal and believes it is a step in the right direction.

France has recently elected a young President, and we have a legislature that fully supports the President. Our official policy is that France is open. It is open to everyone and it is ready to take the lead to resolve challenges facing the world. We are still committed to the ideals of the revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Published on July 16th, Sunday, 2017 12:02 PM

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