It sounded like a tree Strega Nona would love: a sprawling 70-foot beauty, shipped straight from the Italian alps. Instead, it's become an eyesore and a joke, a droopy metaphor of decay and dysfunction in Italy's capital city.
Roman officials paid $57,000 to transport the tree from the Dolomites, in northern Italy. They decked it out in lights and ornaments, then unveiled it to the public in Piazza Venezia on Dec. 8.
Shortly thereafter, things started to go wrong. The tree began loosing its needles, slimming down to a skeleton. An official investigation ensued, revealing that the tree was utterly rootless and beyond saving. City officials won't say exactly what happened, though rumors are flying. The tree's providers say it was in excellent health when it left ("We do not point the finger at anyone," their spokesman Stefano Cattoi said, according to NPR. "But something happened to that tree, it's obvious. It's undergone too much stress.") Italian newspaper Il Messaggero has suggested the tree wasn't properly covered during its trip south.
Romans, meanwhile, are feeling prickly. Locals have begun calling the tree "spelacchio" (translation: baldy or mangy) and "toilet brush."
"It’s a disgrace. It hurts even to look at this Christmas tree," one Roman resident told the Guardian, using an Italian term suggesting that the holiday staple looked like a plucked chicken. "How can they have put it in ... a capital city like Rome?"
Dispirited Romans do have a second holiday season option courtesy of the Vatican. A 69-foot red fir from Poland is in full festive display in St. Peter’s Square with dense green branches and ornaments.
Some are even pinning the blame on Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, a member of the country's antiestablishment Five Star movement. In recent years, Rome has struggled to fulfill basic city services such as fixing pot holes, weeding public gardens and picking up garbage.
Spelacchio, meanwhile, has been bemoaning its fate on Twitter, where it posts envious updates about its lush counterparts in other cities.