ROCHEFORT, France – A rowdy rooster named Maurice will learn Thursday if he can go on crowing as usual, after unhappy neighbors filed a lawsuit denounced by critics as an attack by urban interlopers on the traditional sounds of the French countryside.
Maurice's owner, Corinne Fesseau, told a court in Rochefort, western France, in July that nobody else had complained about the noise at her home on the picturesque island of Oleron, except a couple of retired summer vacationers.
If the judge rules against her, she will have 15 days to either move or silence her noisy charge, failing which she will be hit with heavy fines.
So far her efforts to silence her crooner -- including placing black sheets around his coop to trick him into thinking that morning had not yet broken -- have come to naught.
The case quickly ballooned into a national cause celebre, with 140,000 people signing a "Save Maurice" petition or proudly displaying his picture on "Let Me Sing" T-shirts.
Critics saw the lawsuit as part of a broader threat against France's hallowed rural heritage by city dwellers unable or unwilling to understand the realities of country life.
"This is the height of intolerance -- you have to accept local traditions," Christophe Sueur, the mayor in Fesseau's village of Saint-Pierre-d'Oleron, told AFP.
The couple's lawyer, Vincent Huberdeau, rejected any city-versus-country comparison, saying his clients lived in an area of the town, population 7,000, that is zoned for housing.
"It's not the countryside," he said.
The trial is the latest in a long history of tensions between locals and holiday-home owners in rural France, which underscored the fierce "yellow vest" anti-government protests that erupted last November.
In May, the mayor of the southwestern village of Gajac, Bruno Dionis, penned a furious open letter in May in defense of the rights of church bells to ring, cows to moo, and donkeys to bray throughout rural France.
Dionis du Sejour has asked the government to inscribe the sounds on France's heritage list.
Maurice and his owner are not the only ones ruffling feathers. This week a woman in the duck-breeding heartland of the Landes region was brought to court by a newcomer neighbor fed up with the babbling of the ducks and geese in her back garden.
A petition in support of "the Hardy ducks," as they have been dubbed, after the name of a nearby lake, has garnered some 5,000 signatures.
"More and more people are heading to rural areas, not to work in agriculture but to live there," Jean-Louis Yengue, a geographer at the University of Poitiers, told AFP.
"Everyone is trying to defend their territory."