The entrance to the town of Rhinebeck, a tiny rural idyll about 160 km north of New York, is marked by a sign reading “Mulch for Sale.” The local paper, the Hudson Valley News, is packed with such reports as an account of the chicken barbecue held for senior residents of the town of Clinton — no pun intended — and the annual pig roast thrown by the Crum Elbow Sportsmen's Association.
Soon all that quaint small town pace will be supplanted by something far more urbane, as little old Rhinebeck becomes, for one day at least, the centre of attention of the world's most powerful country.
Roads will be blocked, hotels quarantined and the town invaded by an army of secret service agents, police and media types.
The event will be as close as modern America gets to a royal occasion, and thus must involve the Clintons (the Bushes are too uncool, the Obamas too new).
Hillary and Bill's daughter Chelsea will stand in front of a gathering of her most cherished and intimate loved ones — a mere 400 of them — and marry Marc Mezvinsky, her investment banker boyfriend from another, albeit more lowly, Democratic family, against a backdrop of the gently flowing waters of the Hudson river.
The event will be thoroughly Clintonesque, or rather classically Chelsea.
Born in 1980 into the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Bill was the 40th incumbent, she has spent her entire life within the bubble of her parents' political fame, her every step followed by the American media as befitting the princess she isn't.
And yet she has remained a fiercely private person, barely ever granting an interview and never forcing herself into public attention.
The dichotomy is stamped into the wedding. Best estimates have put its cost at up to $3m, which includes security and a no-fly zone over the area; the erection of air-conditioned tents that alone cost $600,000; food from local growers and prepared by local chefs; wines from the nearby Clinton vineyards (no relation); hiring the entire Beekman Arms Inn, the oldest hotel still serving in America dating from 1766, as guest accommodation; and hiring the mansion itself, a Stanford White design that sits in 50 acres of grounds modelled on Versailles, the creation of the tycoon John Jacob Astor IV, who went down with Titanic.
All local businesses contracted for the event — hotels, caterers, florists, clothing designers, gift providers — were made to sign confidentiality agreements four months ago, even before they knew the identity of the bride.
“They were only told that this would be the A-list of A-list weddings, and they didn't need to know any more than that. Try as I might, I haven't got any one of them to talk,” said Jim Langan, editor of the Hudson Valley News.
He has the distinction of breaking the scoop of the century, in Rhinebeck terms at least, revealing this month that the wedding would take place here, drawing on information supplied by what he calls the “worker bees” of the town. But he says the hush-hush quality of the event has been overwhelming.
“The Clintons made it clear they would play the economic card to local contractors — if you let anything out of the bag we will pull the deal.” Which is why several key details of the wedding are still obscure. Like who makes the dress? Chelsea and Hillary were spotted entering the New York base of Vera Wang, leading to inevitable speculation, but then Hillary was also sighted in her friend Oscar de la Renta's store, which put the spoilers on that.
We know that Bill is determined not to cry at the event — he's told us so himself — and that he's lost 6 kg. so as to look his best.
But the guest list remains largely private, apart from the knowledge that the Obamas will not be present, (he told us he was not invited, on The View) while Oprah probably will.
Just another wedding. Mulch anyone? — ©Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
A tiny rural idyll gets its day in the sun