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The victory of Maurice the rooster is a win for the rural life in France

Xavier Leoty, AFP | File photo of Maurice the rooster.

The US has Donald Trump. The UK has Brexit. And France, where the fight between urban elites and feeling-forgotten traditionalists rages as fiercely as anywhere, has a court battle over a rooster named Maurice. Today he was handed a winning verdict.

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Sure, France also has the Yellow Vest protesters, who rage weekly against out-of-touch politicians who don’t understand the lives of ordinary Frenchmen, but a russet-feathered, red-combed, plump rooster is surely a more sympathetic protagonist – especially given that the Gallic coq is a symbol of France?

Well, not to city slickers, apparently.

The stand-off on the Isle of Oléron began in 2017 when Corinne Fesseau built a chicken coup and installed Maurice and his harem of hens. Jean-Louis Biron and Joëlle Andrieux, who had a holiday home next door, complained that Maurice’s early morning cock-a-doodle-doos were disturbing their sleep. Fesseau did her best to quiet her cockerel, even covering his coop with black sheets to make him think it was still night. It was all to no avail.

By July of this year, the dispute had escalated enough to land the two sides in court, with the couple asking a judge to banish Maurice from the backyard.

Fellow fowl owners turned up for the July 4 court hearing in Rochefort and gathered in front of the building in a show of support for the maligned Maurice. About 140,000 people signed a “Save Maurice” petition and someone printed T-shirts with the rooster’s likeness on them that proclaimed “Let Me Sing”.

Fall fowl

The conflict clearly touched a nerve. In May, Bruno Dionis du Séjour, the mayor of Gajac, a village in the southwest of France, wrote an angry open letter defending the sounds of the French countryside such as the peals of church bells, the lowing of cows and the braying of donkeys. He called on the government to include them on France’s heritage list.

"I hope these people will understand the meaning of rurality," Fesseau told CNN after the July court hearing. "The solution is for people to understand that the countryside is still the countryside and we must tolerate the crows of the rooster. I want to protect all the roosters in France."

While outsiders conjure up images of Paris and the Eiffel Tower when they dream of France, the French still cherish their roots as a farming nation. The International Agricultural Show, held in Paris every year, draws huge crowds, garners massive media coverage and is a must-attend event for French presidents.

Those proud rural inhabitants are seasonally irritated by urbanites who buy country homes to escape to during the holidays. That is particularly true on the Isle of Oléron, where the usual population of 21,000 mushrooms during the summer, sometimes as much as by a factor of 20. Biron and Andrieux are among those holiday dwellers.

Into unknown country

Their lawyer tried to play down the city slicker vs. salt-of-the-earth country denizen characterisations, saying that the 6,700-person town of Saint-Pierre d’Oléron, where the aggrieved parties live, was not rural.

The town’s mayor, Chrisophe Sueur, came to Fesseau’s defence, saying that residents had long lived a rural lifestyle. "This is the height of intolerance – you have to accept local traditions," he told AFP.

The judge didn’t seem to buy the non-rural argument, either. On Thursday, the court ruled in the rooster’s favour and ordered the couple to pay Fesseau €1,000 in damages. Fesseau responded with a resounding “Cocorico!”, the cry of French roosters everywhere.

But the fight for the soul of the countryside may not yet be over. This week a newcomer to the duck-breeding Landes region filed suit against a local woman because her ducks and geese were squawking too loudly. A petition in favour of “the Hardy ducks”, as they have been nicknamed in a reference to a nearby lake, has already garnered 5,000 signatures.

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