ROME – Residents of the Italian capital woke up on Tuesday to distressing news: the iconic spruce set up in Rome’s city center for the Christmas season has been officially declared dead.
“Spelacchio,” as the unlucky tree had been nicknamed, started its tragic decline a few days before when, after being placed in the middle of the emblematic Piazza Venezia, it started showing a pitiful appearance that exuded fragility, sporting bare branches and a decidedly unhealthy veneer.
“We’re not pointing our fingers at anyone, but something’s happened with that tree. It’s evident it has suffered severe stress for it to die so quickly. A spruce usually survives for a month, a month-and-a-half without roots,” Stefano Cattoi, a spokesperson for the city’s technical forestry office, told the daily Corriere della Sera.
Spelacchio means something along the line of “plucked” or “skinned” in Italian.
The tree became so notorious that someone with a good sense of humor even created a Twitter account in its name, which hilariously live-tweeted its own death.
“This afternoon I was feeling a bit strange,” said the parody account – which has almost 4,000 followers – while retweeting an article headlined, “The city of Rome makes sad announcement: ‘Spelacchio is dead.’”
“Ave Virginia, morituro te salutat,” it later said in another tweet addressed at Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, who has been widely criticized for the botanical debacle.
The Latin phrase is a play on the well-known quote from Suetonius’ “The Twelve Caesars,” attributed to captives forced to take part in mock naval battles for the Romans’ amusement: “Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant,” the naumachiarii are supposed to have said, meaning “Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you.”
Comparisons abounded between frail Spelacchio and the healthy, leafy specimen displayed at the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Square, with many on social media mocking the local government’s handling of the coniferous crisis.
Rome’s city hall blamed the supplier, Magnificent, based in the popular northern ski resort Val di Fiemme, which countered the accusations by saying the tree had left for Rome in excellent condition.
The company suggested the tree’s transportation might have affected its branches, ultimately leading to its premature demise.
Meanwhile, the consumers’ association Codacons has called for Spelacchio to be removed from its perch in front of the imposing Vittorio Emanuele II monument, next to Rome’s ancient Forum, in light of the “worldwide embarrassment for Rome’s city hall.”
It added that the incident should be investigated to determine who bears responsibility for it, as the tree cost taxpayers nearly 50,000 euros ($59,000).
Now the authorities are set to decide whether to leave the dead tree at its place or remove it and end the sad story once and for all.
Some citizens were suggesting – with a hint of irony – that the once-majestic spruce be interred at Rome’s famous Pantheon, alongside some of the past kings of Italy.