“Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. That you must believe if anything good is to come of this story.” Charles Dickens-A Christmas Carol. What we don’t know is how he died. What we do know is that he died Christmas Eve. What else do we know? We know he lived in London. Europe. We also know that the tradition here is to put up Christmas trees on Christmas Eve. We also know that it is not uncommon to have 13 foot ceilings in European homes.
I think Marley died of a heart attack.
I can relate.
Being the quintessential Christmas suck who is used to putting up Christmas trees around the same time department stores do in North America, usually just after Labour Day, I was finding the waiting ‘til Christmas Eve European tradition encroaching on my North American tradition of having Christmas start in pumpkin season and lasting (in some neighbourhoods) until Valentine’s Day, a bit too much to ask.
We had heard that you could find Christmas trees everywhere on the streets of Budapest.
So I watched.
Came the weekend of December 1, we wandered the streets.
The weekend of December 7.
By the weekend of December 14, there was no living with me. Ask Susan.
So out we went and walked to a square not too far away and behold, across the square, I spotted them. Christmas trees.
Squirrels don’t get to nuts as fast as I got to those trees.
How cool was this? Our first Christmas in Europe and living in an apartment with 13’ ceilings! Does it get any cooler than that? Bonus. We own a step ladder.
Can you spell ’13 foot tree’?
Oh, Susan, being the MENSA chick she is, tried to explain the geometry of height and width ratios but I would have nothing of it.
“It’s Christmas. Be of good cheer!” (Die Hard 1).
The first 13 foot tree we looked at was great for height but when I asked to have the binding cut off, it just wasn’t bushy enough for me. No. We wanted a bushy 13’ tree.
And by golly, they had one.
The gentleman cut off the binding to reveal a magnificent, full, freshly cut spruce.
“But…” started Susan.
“No, no, no, this is great!”
Oh. How much is it?
Five thousand forints a meter. Hmmm. Three meters. That’s…OK, we’ll take it!
(Susan, how much is five thousand forints?)
No worries. We had our tree.
OK then, just bind her up and away we’ll go. Oh look, there’s a cab right over there! How cool is that?
It was cool except the guy couldn’t take a 3 meter tree. No problem. I’ll just give him my cell phone and have him call his company to send another cab.
Meanwhile, back at the tree farm, there was the issue of the tree re-binding.
Took four Hungarians, each the size of half an Ontario barn, to stuff this tree through binder.
But they got it! How cool is that?
Meanwhile, back at the cell phone, the cab driver is on the phone with his dispatcher and I hear, “Nem?”. Means, “Not a chance.”
No problem, we’ll phone another cab company.
Hmmm. Fresh cut 13’ bushy spruce tree. Lot of moisture still in that tree.
OK. Poop. We’ll just have to carry it back ourselves. On foot. OK then.
A little background on that is that my sciatica was acting up and Susan is vertically challenged.
Poo. Did I say that already? Well, from what we’ve seen, they don’t have poop and scoop laws here but they do seem to love their dogs. Dodging dog logs for 10 blocks with a hundred pound tree.
So there we were. Sciatica Bill and my beloved midget, Susan. Carrying…no..dragging..a 13’ freshly cut bushy spruce through the streets of Budapest in full view of people who come from here and just because they have 13’ ceilings does not mean they get 13’ trees. Bushy and freshly cut, at that.
We seemed to catch people’s attention although none of them had cabs.
I did the best dignity-saving effort I could when we struggled by people. I just shrugged, tried to laugh and said, “Canadians.”
It was about 10 blocks to the house, give or take, although I think there was more give than take.
We’d make it about half a block, stop to catch our breath and I started to think of old Marly: you know; the dead as a doornail guy. I recall every winter in Canada reading about some poor soul who died of a heart attack while out shoveling snow. I thought it might be somewhat embarrassing to suffer the same fate while hauling a Christmas tree through the streets of Budapest. But did I give up? No. I now have a Hungarian health card so I kept trekking on with my vertically-challenged, loving MENSA wife pulling her weight too, which was about 1/4 the weight of the tree.
As much as a problem it was getting to our apartment building, that was not the real problem. The real problem was getting to our apartment in the apartment building.
We live on the 3rd (4th by North American measures) floor.
So two completely winded tree-haulers huffed and puffed up the winding staircase; all eighty-seven stairs of it. My MENSA wife counted them. And she reminded me, floor by floor, although never once did she say what I would have said if I was in her tiny shoes:
“You wouldn’t listen.” Of course, if you think about it, saying “you wouldn’t listen” to someone who doesn’t listen seems pretty pointless to me. I told you she’s smart.
We stopped at every floor so that every resident could have a good look and have something to talk about for the next week.
By the time we made it to our door, I cannot begin to tell you the relief.
There it was. A 13’ ft tree in an apartment with 13’ ceilings.
Only one problem: it was still horizontal.
I had purchased a tree stand and I think it came with instructions and warnings about maximum heights but real guys don’t read instructions and warnings: they have their wives do that. Thankfully, I had torn the tags off so she couldn’t.
So we connected the tree as best we could to the stand and hauled it vertical. One small problem was that the tree was not cut perfectly level at the stump so it really didn’t rest too well in the stand. By that I mean it wouldn’t stand up without assistance.
So then there came the hunting for the string that postal regulations here demand you put on parcels to mail and using the postal string to tie the tree to window latches, hoping nothing broke. Like the windows.
After much anxiety and nail-biting, “let go of the tree and let see if it doesn’t fall over”s, it was up. Sort of. It’s leaning against the wall and window and at a bit of an angle.
I tried to take these pictures so that you could not see how lop-sided our first Budapest Christmas is looking.
But it’s looking magnificent, isn’t it?
I know, I know. Some of you pesky realists are probably thinking, “Well, if it was that hard getting in, how will you get it out?”
Gravity, my friend, gravity.
I just love the open inner courtyards of European buildings, don’t you?
The 13 foot tree
Written by William Lower
Friday, 19 December 2008