So here we are, our first day back in New York, and we’re locked up inside a stranger’s apartment with four gallons of water and an apocalypse-sized bottle of Hendricks gin. The hurricane hasn’t hit yet but clearly the first bands of rain are already here and we were punished with a thorough drenching for attempting to go out for some brunch. The doorman chuckled at us as we trudged back in, our shirts stuck to our bodies and our sodden canvas shoes squeaking. “And this is just the beginning,” he said.

NASA’s shot of Irene (five days ago)

Hurricane Irene, initially a Category 3 storm when it hit the Bahamas has now been downgraded to a Category 1 but is still approximately the size of Europe Spain.   So far 5 have died as a result of the storm since it made landfall in North Carolina. It’s got the New York authorities worried enough to have evacuated the city’s low-lying areas and the entire downtown of Manhattan, including moving the critically ill out of the hospitals. All public transit in the city has been suspended in advance of the expected flooding of the streets and the subway system.

Those of us north of Canal Street hopefully won’t see any flooding but we’ve been warned to stay inside from this evening onwards. The main risks will likely be flying debris and downed trees. At the very least we can probably expect some power outages and candlelight dinners as the City that Never Sleeps is plunged into total darkness.

This will be my first hurricane and CNN have been toying with my heartbeat with their dramatic music and alarming headlines. I hope I won’t be punished for the perverse sense of excitement that gripped me as we went out last night for our “‘cane supplies”.

There were some very telling bald spots on the supermarket’s shelves. The water aisle had only a few forlorn bottles of San Pellegrino rolling around on an empty shelf. All the milk and every last slice of bread was also gone. The cashier confirmed my impression that we’d just missed a stampede.

Today it was the calm before the storm. The big storefronts, Duane Reade, Bank of America and AT&T were all closed, a cross of tape on each window to prevent shattering. Those local businesses that stayed open to take advantage were evident, bustling with people and doing a roaring business. It seems everyone is using the incoming cyclone as an excuse to fatten up and indulge the consumer inside them.

Luckily we’ve already built up some reserves on our last week in Montreal as we attempted to knock off the list any remaining Quebecois specialities that we hadn’t yet tried. Any benefit we may have gained from living in same building as a gym for two months may have, sadly, been erased.

An invitation to dine at Emmanuel’s cousin’s with her family helped take care of two big omissions. Ontario’s sweet yet crisp ice wine is widely acclaimed but less well known is its Quebecois cousin, ice cider. Twenty years after ice wine was first brought to Ontario, some orchard stole the concept and began to apply it to their apples.

A glug of the golden-coloured nectar for aperitif got our appetites ready for the ensuing course – a tourtière. Another Quebec speciality, the tourtière is a meat pie whose filling varies regionally but usually includes a blend of up to three meats. Ours included boar, a nod to their Gallic roots, and had me imagining an asterix-style hunt in the forests of northern Quebec.

On our last day we still hadn’t tried Montreal’s famous smoked meat and so we planned to visit Lester’s in the evening for the mandatory smoked meat sandwich with pickles. The day turned into a sandwich marathon when our friends from Station C also wouldn’t let us leave without visiting Depanneur Le Pickup, a regular corner store that added a griddle and a narrow food counter and started doling out sandwiches that our co-workers described as “unmissable”.

Station C Gang look up from their pulled pork just long enough for a picture

They were right – the pulled pork sandwich was pure juicy goodness but the clear winner was the “fake” pulled-pork, a vegetarian equivalent made from tofu skins and flavoured with an exquisite blend of sweet and spicy. It almost made us want to stay a few more days but instead we hopped onto the last train that made it into New York from Canada.

Now, we’re just hoping our ride to the UK, the Queen Mary 2, won’t be affected so it can pluck us from the ruins of NYC in a week’s time!

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