On the occasion of the coming of the Chinese Year of the Fire Rooster, I would like to remind my dear readers that the rooster is also the French national emblem. For quite a long period in Shanghai, it was associated with the French Sports Club , today's Okura Garden Hotel located on today's Maoming Road, previously called rue du Cardinal Mercier by the French. Completed in 1926, this wonderful building is the masterpiece of two young and talented architects Alexandre Leonard and Paul Veysseyre who launched their career on this specific occasion. Veysseyre was actually 27 years old when Minutti, the architect design office who employed him, was awarded the contract in 1923 by the French Municipal Council which also employed Jacques Mayol's father, Laurent. Very soon, members of the Municipality were impressed by his ingenious skills, ended the contract with Minutti and handed it over to the pair of brillant employees. For a time, it was still possible to find cutlery in the antique and flee markets of Shanghai bearing the French rooster of the Cercle Sportif Français. A friend of mine who is antique collector, recently got rid of a menu with this sign. When someone was actually joining the Club for the weekend dancing parties, they would climb the stairs, once surrounded by Art Deco stained glass and be welcome by a statue of the French rooster.
The first person to associate the French with the rooster was Julius Caesar in his Commentaries. At that time the Celtic tribes staying in today's France kept fighting each other, giving a great opportunity for the ambitious Roman general to look for fame. He sent his legions across the Alps and and finally defeated everyone in the town of Alesia. During his campaign, Julius Caesar wrote his own self-aggrandizing version of events. To ridicule the Celts, he called them "Galli", meaning chicken, an Latin insult for cowards! This word actually became the only one to describe the French tribes based on the then conquered territory and therefore known as the "Gauls". This reputation, however, was anything but true, as Gauls were fierce warriors, whose only superstition was the fall of the sky as funnily described by the cartoonist Uderzo in his famous series Asterix. The Gauls were actually known to fight naked, a way to show they did not fear enemies, and usually ran onto them with a single sword, yelling at them!
Another often reference to the rooster in France comes from Christianism, as most French churches have a small rooster shaped wind sign - weather cock- on their steeples. This symbolizes Christ finding his way against contrary winds, the choice of the rooster as announcing the daylight after the night, an image of truth and good triumphing over darkness and evil. The tradition for early Christians was also to gather for the first prayer at the morning crowing of the rooster. For my Belgian friends, I would like to mention this joke about the French reputed for being infatuated with themselves. The reason, Belgians say, to select the rooster as their national symbol: an animal able to sing everyday with their feet on a stinky pile of, er, let's call it compost - an another image of a declining country and still proud of itself! We, the French, of course, don't mind one bit. Indeed, we currently confront our international competitors with little or no clothes on. Not litterally of course! Another cocktail?
Sources et photos:
- Shanghai's Art Deco Master, Paul Veysseyre's Architecture in the French Concession, authors Spencer Dodington & Charles Lagrange: Earnshaw 2014
- Commentarii de Bello Gallico, author Julius Caesar, 50BC, TheLatinLibrary.com, 2008
- Asterix the Gaul, authors René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, Dargaud 1959