August 2, 2020 | News | No Comments
It is supposed to be a proud symbol of the festive season but Rome’s official Christmas tree has been ridiculed for its spindly appearance and sagging branches.
The giant tree, erected in the middle of the capital’s main piazza, has even been given a nickname by disappointed Romans – “lo Spelacchio”, which roughly translates as “the Mangy One”.
The 70ft-tall tree appears to be dying, or possibly already dead.
For Romans, it has become an emblem of the chaotic governance of their city by the Five Star Movement, the anti-establishment party which hopes to win office at national elections due to be held in the Spring.
The council, led by mayor Virginia Raggi, has been accused of failing to tackle the city’s problems since being elected last year, from uncollected rubbish to graffiti-sprayed trains and buses that alarmingly burst into flames – sometimes when passengers are on board.
The threadbare pine tree in Piazza Venezia is even receiving its own Christmas cards. “Ciao Spelacchio, victim of apathy…and of Nero,” read one, with the reference to the Roman emperor who famously played a lyre while Rome burned being an apparent dig at Ms Raggi.
The tree is now the subject of an official investigation. Codacons, a consumer organisation, has referred it to an audit court, alleging that the council’s purchase of the skeletal tree was a waste of public money.
It emerged that the company that transported the tree from the mountains of Trentino in northern Italy was chosen without having to go through a public tender, and that it was paid around €48,000 – triple the price paid by Rome last year.
“A lot of money was spent on a dead tree, meaning there is possible damage to the public purse," the complaint, filed this week, read.
The tree has been hung with giant silver baubles but even they fail to mask the dismal condition it is in. It even has its own Twitter account. “Eight hundred baubles and 4,000 metres of lights – now I’ve got a back ache from all this bloody stuff,” one recent tweet said.
Another tweet, echoing the traditional salute of gladiators to the emperor when they entered the Colosseum, read: “Ave Virginia, those who are about to die salute you.”
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Political opponents of the Five Star Movement seized on the affair as evidence of the party’s inexperience.
“The Five Star Movement can’t even manage to get a Christmas tree right, imagine how they would govern the country,” said Elvira Savino, an MP from Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-Right party.
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Giorgia Meloni, the head of Brothers of Italy, a Right-wing party, wrote on Facebook: “€48,000 to kill a Christmas tree. Well done, Virginia.”