France has passed a law to protect ‘sensory heritage’ in rural areas, putting a check on entitlement of city slickers

The jolting cry of a cockerel, the comforting smell of manure and the rumbling of tractors — the idyllic sensory landscape of rural France has been the source of much civil strife in recent years. An increasing number of city slickers have vacation homes in rural areas, to enjoy peace and serenity. As it turns out, rural life is full of activity, and at least in France, not amenable to change for the comfort of strangers. There have been several complaints about the noise and smells from animals and churches in the last few years. Maurice, the rooster, became a symbol for this conflict when his neighbours went to court against his owners in 2019, chagrined at being woken up by the cockerel’s cry at dawn. French legislators have finally put the matter to rest by passing a law to protect the countryside’s “sensory heritage”.

To be fair, there is something gnawing about being woken up when it’s still dark outside by the shrill crowing of a rooster. But the entitlement to comforts the wealthy thought money can buy at their weekend chalets, are at odds with the choices of empowered rural residents. Unlike the luxury stores at the Champs-Élysées, rural France has refused to serve the interests of tourists. France — both culturally and economically — is still strongly agricultural. The campaign for the law was based on the principle that the countryside is more than a scenic landscape, and living there means accepting that fact.

Their “sensory heritage” safeguarded, French country folk must not get complacent. Soundscapes are fragile things, as Indians are well aware. A loudspeaker and an upcoming election can drown out the sounds of a homestead a lot faster than the complaints of bratty neighbours. But in the meanwhile, at least, the Maurices of France are free to make a morning racket.

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