Of all the birds, the rooster has long held a special esteem with the French. During the French Revolution, the animal was a symbol of vigilance; now, its traits—unabashed, proud, possessing a fighting spirit—serve as a down-and-dirty counterpart to serene Marianne, symbol of the Republic. It appears on monuments, French sporting uniforms, and even the logo of the French cinema company Pathé.
But in recent months, one particular rooster has become a symbol not of France, but of the country’s growing rural-urban divide. Maurice is a handsome bird with a magnificent red wattle. Unfortunately for his neighbors, he has a triumphant morning call to match.
Maurice and his owner, Corinne Fesseau, live in the rural town of Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, on an island off France’s southwestern coast. The village has a population of about 7,000 people, many of whom have lived on the island for all their lives. Increasingly, however, they share space with French city-dwellers, who come from nearby Limoges or larger centers for occasional weekends, holidays, or summer vacations. Fesseau’s own neighbors, who are retired, are two such urbanites.
Here’s the issue: These neighbors don’t think very highly of Maurice or his rapturous song. In 2017, as CNN reports, the neighbors asked Fesseau to keep her bird in check. She demurred. Relations between the three people—and Maurice—have since grown so strained that the rooster this week served as the defendant in a court battle. The neighbors are now suing over his morning song, and have requested that he be removed. (Fesseau went in his place, lest he disturb proceedings, though a selection of other roosters, and their owners, came in solidarity.)
Fesseau, for her part, has now become the unofficial champion of all of France’s roosters. ”The solution is for people to understand that the countryside is still the countryside and we must tolerate the crows of the rooster,” she told CNN.
The case, in all its apparent silliness, has awoken a longstanding conflict in France, between urban holiday-makers and the rural people who live in the country’s picturesque holiday spots all the year round. At the time of writing, nearly 130,000 people had signed an online petition to support the bird and his master. Some 17,600 comments run the gamut of French nationalism, pro-animal sentiment, and general antipathy to those who want to change country living. “Let Maurice the rooster live his life. If you don’t like animals, stay in the city,” says one. Another adds: “We live in the countryside and appreciate the cock’s crow. Those who can’t tolerate it should live on a desert island.”
While the case will not be resolved until September, Fesseau seems quietly confident about her chances, CNN reports. On leaving the courthouse, she told the broadcaster: “I’m going to go see [Maurice], give him a kiss and tell him we’re going to win this trial!”