How will Rome’s new Christ­mas tree hold up on so­cial me­dia?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - International - By Elis­a­betta Povoledo

ROME — For weeks now, Ro­mans have been breath­lessly await­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of the Ital­ian cap­i­tal’s of­fi­cial Christ­mas tree, a year af­ter the re­sound­ing so­cial me­dia de­ba­cle that felled last year’s fir.

That tree, a Nor­way spruce that im­me­di­ately lost its nee­dles, had been nick­named Spelac­chio, or Mangy, for its thread­bare ap­pear­ance, and had been mer­ci­lessly, and hu­mor­ously, de­rided through­out the hol­i­day sea­son. Mayor Vir­ginia Raggi, no stranger to con­tro­versy, had also been swept up in the scathing so­cial me­dia mael­strom.

So it’s no won­der that this year’s tree has been un­der es­pe­cially close scru­tiny. The of­fi­cial pre­sen­ta­tion is sched­uled for Satur­day, but its jour­ney has been tracked for weeks.

In late Novem­ber, in­trepid re­porters from Rome trekked to the Lom­bardy town of Cit­tiglio, 416 miles north of the cap­i­tal to a gar­den nurs­ery whose iden­tity had been kept se­cret for weeks.

There, they chron­i­cled the tree’s ax­ing and prepa­ra­tion for the trip to Rome, which in­volved de­tach­ing the larger branches of the 75-foot tree, to be re-af­fixed upon ar­rival in Rome.

The Rome daily news­pa­per Il Mes­sag­gero wrote in a front-page ar­ti­cle that the tree had been “dis­as­sem­bled and re­assem­bled like a piece of Ikea fur­ni­ture,” lead­ing some Ro­mans to call the tree #Spez­za­c­chio, a play on the Ital­ian verb “to break.”

It didn’t take long for the new tree to es­tab­lish a pres­ence on so­cial me­dia, though Ital­ians can’t seem to agree on a hash­tag.

For many crit­ics of Rome’s mayor, a mem­ber of the pop­ulist Five Star Move­ment, the mangy tree was a sym­bol of ev­ery­thing wrong with the cap­i­tal, where garbage goes un­col­lected, pot­holes trans­form many streets into slalom cour­ses and buses oc­ca­sion­ally burst into flames.

Spelac­chio’s of­fi­cial ac­count — cre­ated last year — ap­pears to have been co-opted by this year’s en­try, and de­spite the polemics last year, the old name seems to have stuck.

Ms. Raggi proudly posted on Twit­ter re­cently that “@spelac­chio is Back in @Roma,” us­ing a tagline adopted by the tree’s spon­sor, Net­flix.

The new tree’s re­views on so­cial me­dia have been mostly pos­i­tive.

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