Less scabies, more frills: the new mayor of Rome is betting on his Christmas tree

ROME – The Romans never hesitated to blame their mayors for the city’s multiple faults: potholes that swallow up tires, open-air neighborhood dumps, marauding wildlife.

But in recent years, city leaders have also had to deal with the nervousness of their constituents ahead of the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony on December 8 in central Piazza Venezia.

At least since 2017, when Mayor Virginia Raggi sparked a social media maelstrom after planting a tree so pitiful it’s been dubbed Spelacchio or Mangy.

On Wednesday, it was his successor’s turn: at a press conference that evening, Mayor Roberto Gualtieri, elected in October, presented his “bellissimo Christmas tree”.

The tree ticked all the right boxes: tall, bright, bushy, and, at least initially, crowd pleaser.

“It gives a great feeling of joy; it reminds me of when I was a kid, “said Assunta Barbano, who attended the lighting ceremony to lift her spirits, adding:” It hasn’t been the best of times.

But Mr. Gualtieri was less worried about the reactions of those present at the ceremony.

Online, the grumbling has started, with many social media users appalled at the price: 169,000 euros, or roughly $ 191,000, which includes transport, installation and removal of the tree, more or less. in relation to the cost of that set up. Last year.

Some supporters Mrs Raggi, who is now part of the opposition in the city council, began to denounce the new tree even before the ceremony – it is a “kick in the stomach” too ignited. we wrote – but after the Spelacchio debacle, Ms Raggi also sought to dazzle the Romans. She’s raised taller, brighter Christmas trees a year even while partnering with Netflix as a sponsor.

Mr Gualtieri spent his first weeks in office trying to distinguish himself from Ms Raggi, who has been accused, rightly or wrongly, of a host of the town’s ailments. He’s displayed a vibrant spirit in a city known to be eternal, a benchmark – some slyly suggest – to the time it takes to get anything done here.

He promised that by Christmas he would clean up the city streets and remove the mounds of garbage that periodically choke Roman trash cans. (Empirical evidence suggests that he has so far missed this mark.)

And last week he announced that a historic bridge that burned down shortly before the October 4 election – a metaphor for the burning of Rome that was not lost on Ms. Raggi’s criticisms – would reopen on Sunday.

But the city went to the city on the tree.

Compared to Spelacchio, the 2021 tree is taller – 75 feet versus 72 for Mangy – and it’s considerably fuller and much brighter. “It’s very bright,” said Francesco Bernardi, who is training as a lawyer in Rome. He praised the tree, but questioned the city’s decision to “use so much energy to light it”, given the global concern to “go green”.

He didn’t have to worry: All of the bulbs on the tree are energy efficient LEDs, a spokesperson for the Acea energy utility said.

Besides the twinkling lights – and there are plenty of them – for his first tree, Mr Gualtieri has partnered with the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to reflect a spirit of Christmas different.

The tree, said the mayor, is “part of a campaign to raise awareness of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” ambitious goals to improve lives and cover areas such as global hunger, change climate, environment, education and justice.

“There is no better time or place than the Christmas tree to present these extraordinary goals and enrich the Christmas message,” said Mr. Gualtieri.

Seventeen festively wrapped boxes, each representing a goal, are arranged around the tree. And each is marked with a QR code that people can scan to find out how to make Rome more sustainable. (Tip for Achieving Goal # 12: “Support Socially Responsible and Ethical Brands, Donate Old Clothing to Charity, and Buy Used.”)

To illustrate the sustainable development goals around Rome, Acea installed light-covered wire Christmas trees atop colorful stalls in 14 neighborhoods.

It is “a roadmap of how each of us can take simple steps to be part of the change,” said Qu Dongyu, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, in a statement. communicated. He invited everyone to “learn more about the sustainable actions that each of us can do in our daily life”.

Enrico Giovannini, Italian Minister for Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility, who was also at the tree-lighting ceremony press conference on Wednesday, said the European Union and Italy put the goals “at the center” of the continent’s economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic. “The goals boil down to the policies,” he said.

“It’s a great initiative,” said Simona Marcolli, who had come to see the tree with her preteen daughter, adding: “We are already talking about these issues at home. It is important.”

And the tree? “It’s great,” she said.

The Romans have also been keeping an eye this year on a city rival – the Vatican – after a Nativity scene last year that they criticized as being too unconventional.

This year the crib was a gift from the Chopcca Nation in Peru. It presents 35 life-size figurines dressed in typical Andean costumes. “It’s more classic, more traditional,” said Angela Schinnea, tour guide in Rome.

Her friend Marisa Maiorana, who works for an import-export company, said she loved the Vatican Christmas tree – a 92-foot, eight-ton red fir tree from northern Italy. But she said she also liked the tree in Piazza Venezia, although she noted that the Romans started calling it “bottiglione” because they joked that it looked like an oversized bottle. .

“It’s true” that the Romans complain about everything, says Simone Livulpi, just graduated in communication.

“It’s a way of being,” he says. “We tend to complain about everything. Even if there is no reason to do so.



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