Ramadan in France: iftar mixed with inspiration

Fasting is harder 'when everyone around you is not fasting,' but an artist from Abu Dhabi adapts while feasting on the beauty of Dijon.

Mohamed al Mansouri, an artist, says he misses his family and the 'delicious food' of Ramadan.
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Mohammad al Mansouri, an Emirati spending Ramadan in Dijon, France, misses the "delicious food" the most. "Just thinking about the great amount of good food that I won't be able to break my fast on makes me miss home even more," he said.

Mr al Mansouri, a 47-year-old painter, is studying at Le Consortium Art Centre for six months on a grant from the Emirates Foundation. He loves the artists' haven but he wishes his family could be with him during this time. But the father of three girls and three boys thinks he would have a hard time persuading them to come. "Fasting hours are longer here," he said by telephone. The sun sets after 8pm in Dijon.

Having already lost 6kg, Mr al Mansouri is looking to take off a little more. "At least I am going to lose weight while everyone else gains weight back home," he said with a laugh. Mr al Mansouri said he spends most of his day out-and-about in the city, taking photos, before returning to his studio to paint and "self reflect". "Painting is a kind of meditation in itself, where you take what inspires you and turn it into art," he said.

During Ramadan, he will join a group of Algerian friends for prayers in what he called the "Muslim corner", set up just outside their home. "It will be hard to fast when everyone around you is not fasting, but then you adapt by waking up later in the day, and keeping busy until it is time to break your fast," he said. He has brought with him a bag of dates, on which he will break his fast during Ramadan.

"It is a shame I am not a good cook, otherwise I would be cooking my own iftars," he said. "I will just have to buy ready made food." It also helps that another Emirati is visiting from the UAE for the holy month. "I just want to make the most of this Ramadan and be productive," said Ahmed Arshi, 30. "It tends to be a slow and sleepy month with too much focus on the food and social gatherings." Besides his filmmaking career, Mr Arshi has already published four works of fiction and is visiting Dijon to work on his fifth book.

While it has yet to be written, Mr Arshi knows the premise of the book, about twin brothers, one of them with a mental illness who ends up being killed by his twin. "I am looking forward to just writing, praying, and self reflecting without pressures and obligations distracting me from my passion and from worshipping Allah," he said. "Dijon is so beautiful, and so peaceful, that it is actually a great place to pray and meditate."

Mr Arshi said he will be glad to miss the "shisha" culture that has become part of Ramadan. "Ramadan has become far too commercial, like Christmas, where everyone gets sucked in to what they have to do and buy in Ramadan," he said. Instead, Mr Arshi said, he is sitting in a quiet café, surrounded by "beauty and art", where he can order a bottle of Perrier and keep it closed until it is time for iftar.

"The food is great there, and what is better than breaking your fast on fresh croissant and a sip of Perrier?" he said. He will travel to Switzerland and Germany before ending up back in Dijon to spend time with Mr al Mansouri. "Of course I will miss my family and friends, but I seriously won't be missing seeing everyone glued to the TV watching the Ramadan series," he said. "What a waste of time.

"I want to make the most of this month, and sometimes, in order to do that, you just have to be away from home." rghazal@thenational.ae