No Xmas Joy In Rome
It has been compared to a toilet brush and given a nickname that roughly translates as "mangy:" meet Rome's Christmas tree, known to locals as "spelacchio."
The 21-meter high red spruce, hailing from the Val di Fiemme in the Dolomites, was installed in the central Piazza Venezia on December 5 and inaugurated three days later.
But it immediately attracted criticism for looking miserly, especially compared to the glitzier and privately sponsored trees on display in Milan, Italy's fashion and finance capital.
"This tree is sad," taxi driver Emanuele told dpa. "The Milanese has a more beautiful one, paid by Sky. They've got the money, so they also have a beautiful tree. Everything is better in Milan," he added.
Rome's eternal rival, enjoying a renaissance partly triggered by billions spent on the city for the 2015 Expo world fair, put up a 30-meter high red spruce outside its medieval cathedral, the Duomo.
But it also inaugurated giant Christmas trees next to other landmarks such as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade and the La Scala opera house, with other sponsors covering the cost.
By contrast, Rome's "spelacchio" has become a target for ridicule even in social media, with a parody Twitter account commiserating its status with messages like, "I have more followers than branches."
"It is the perfect representation of Rome today: sad, inadequate, lonely," the Roman edition of the Corriere della Sera newspaper said in a Wednesday editorial.
Roma Fa Schifo (Rome sucks), an influential civic campaign blog, revealed that city hall paid almost 50,000 euros (58,900 dollars) for the tree, with no public tender, three times more than in 2016.
It is the second year in a row that Mayor Virginia Raggi has come under fire for her choice of Christmas decorations. Last year she responded with a late round of extra decorations to the Piazza Venezia tree.
This year, she hailed the city's unloved Christmas tree on Facebook for complying with "the highest environmental standards" and for being decorated "with simplicity and sophistication."
Meanwhile, her anti-establishment party, the Five Star Movement, says there are more serious issues to worry about in a city beguiled by crippling debts and failing public services.
Raggi was elected by a landslide in 2015, but has since struggled with endemic Roman problems like garbage collection and public transport, amid infighting and resignations in her team.
The annual quality of life survey for Italy's 110 provinces, published last month by business daily Il Sole 24 Ore, certified that the Eternal City is not having a good moment.
Rome was ranked 24th in the list, down 11 positions from last year, scoring particularly poor marks on law and order. Milan, meanwhile, made it into the top 10, finishing eighth.