Our first Christmas in Panama City, we bought our tree from the Super 99 grocery store near our apartment. We chose it from among the 4- and 5-foot trees leaning against the front of the store, baking day after day in the hot sun, took it home, and watched as our little tree lost nearly all its needles well before the 25th rolled around.
Our second Christmas in Panama City, we asked for help. Where’s the best place to buy a tree in this city, we wondered of our friends. A big tree. A fresh tree. We were directed to a shop called Tzanetatos, on Via Brazil, a warehouse with pallets of hams, wine, olives, and other holiday fixings, and, in a giant refrigerated area, fresh Christmas trees, delivered direct from Canada. Ah, this is more like it, we thought as we stood in the refrigerated unit in our short sleeves and sandals, shivering and rubbing our hands together for warmth. We chose the tallest tree they had, took it home, and enjoyed it through the New Year.
We returned to this same spot for our tree the next two years, remembering to wear sweaters. Some shoppers come dressed in snow parkas.
Last Thursday I suggested to Lief that we stop by to see if the place had received its annual tree delivery yet. We’ve learned that they receive one shipment each year. When those trees are gone, that’s it.
“No, not yet,” they told us last week. “Come back Monday.”
We’ve been living in Panama long enough to know to confirm these kinds of things, so, on Monday, we called the shop. “Yes, the trees are here,” the lady on the phone told us. “They’ve arrived today.”
Great. We drove straight over.
“Where are the Christmas trees?” we asked when we walked in.
“Oh, they’re not here yet,” the woman said.
“But we called. We confirmed. The lady on the phone said the trees arrived today.”
“Yes, they’ve arrived in the country today. They’re on the dock. Customs hasn’t released them. Come back tomorrow.”
Yesterday, we called again. “Yes, the trees are here,” the lady on the phone told us.”
“The trees are there in the store?” we asked. Fool us once but not twice, we thought to ourselves.
“Yes, they’re here. They’re in the store.”
We drove over. No trees in sight.
“Where are the Christmas trees?” we asked again, dejectedly.
“They’re on the loading dock out back. Not inside yet. You should come back tomorrow…”
This morning, Lief and our driver Alberto drove back over.
“I knew right away this time that the trees were finally, fully in residence,” Lief reported. “The place smelled like pine forest.”
Lief and Alberto bought two trees, one for home and one for the office. Eight feet tall apiece, they’re fresh and fragrant in their stands, waiting to be trimmed.