Mum's the word on the wedding - even from mum

By Jocelyn Noveck

"I cannot disclose," says the caterer.

"We're not really speaking," says the restaurant manager.

"I can't say anything myself," says the bartender.

"No comment," says the hotel receptionist.

And so it goes on a walk through Rhinebeck, New York, a charming town on the Hudson dotted with galleries, boutiques, upmarket restaurants and well-hidden mansions, one of which - we're pretty sure - will host the most anticipated wedding of many a summer: that of Chelsea Clinton and her investment banker beau, Marc Mezvinsky.

Not that the town isn't abuzz over the grand event, presumed to be taking place on July 31, though even that generally agreed-upon detail could be a ruse, some conspiracy-minded townspeople warn.

It's just that anyone with any role in the event clearly has decided, or been told, not to speak - including the bride's own mother, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who very diplomatically told NBC News: "I am under very strict orders not to talk about it."

And so it's left to people like Regina Caridi, manager of a small, high-end clothes boutique in the town centre, to merely speculate.

"I've heard it's happening at Astor Courts," Caridi said last week, echoing a widely held assumption that Clinton and her intended have chosen the jewel of a grand nearby estate, totally hidden from prying eyes along River Rd.

The building - designed by renowned architect Stanford White for John Jacob Astor IV, the early 20th century millionaire who died when the Titanic went down - had recently been on sale for US$12 million ($16.9 million). But it was taken off the market, undoubtedly to keep away curious folks with no intention of buying.

Other than that, Caridi didn't know much, but was excited to have witnessed what she assumes was a Chelsea wedding reconnaissance trip this year. Chelsea walked into her store and browsed among the designer jeans.

"She couldn't have been sweeter," said Caridi.

Rhinebeck, a town of about 8000 an easy two-hour drive from New York City, may not be the obvious choice for a wedding of American political royalty - as would Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod or the Hamptons - but it makes sense for the Clintons. Bill and Hillary Clinton live just under 120km away in Chappaqua, New York, and have passed through a number of times.

A framed newspaper article documenting their lunch at the Beekman Arms, said to be the oldest operating inn in America, sits in the hotel lobby, but don't try asking about anything Clinton at the reception desk, where friendly hotel workers simply smile sympathetically and say "No comment". (Yes, the hotel is sold out that weekend.)

As public as her parents are, it should come as no surprise that Chelsea Clinton's wedding has been shrouded in secrecy.

When she was a shy young girl with frizzy hair growing up in the White House, her parents zealously guarded her privacy, asking the media to leave her in peace and even winning an apology for an unkind reference on Saturday Night Live.

As she grew older, Chelsea guarded her own privacy, refusing to talk to reporters as she campaigned for her mother's 2008 presidential bid.

The slim and fashionable Clinton, now 30, worked at a hedge fund and recently got a master's degree at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

She met her 32-year-old fiance as a teenager but started dating him only in the past few years. He is a son of former Pennsylvania Representative Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky and former Iowa Representative Ed Mezvinsky, who was released from federal prison last year after serving a nearly five-year sentence for wire and bank fraud.

Jeff Ackerly, a real estate agent whose office is across from the Beekman Arms, says he has seen signs of wedding advance people scoping out the area. He thinks Chelsea and her groom made the logical decision in choosing Rhinebeck.

"She probably finds it appealing, charming and accessible," said Ackerly. "Lots of art, culture, fabulous galleries and food."

Yes, the food - Rhinebeck residents seem particularly proud of that. At Gendron Catering, along Route 9G, owner Daniel Gendron's small office area is decorated with plaques declaring his company one of the best in the town, and his business has been rumoured to be involved with the wedding. Maybe. You can ask, but Gendron won't bite. "I cannot disclose."

If not Gendron, who else might be doing the food? Perhaps Gigi Trattoria on Route 9? They're not saying.

How about Terrapin, the elegant restaurant nearby, where some entrees run close to US$30? Seems like a good bet - only because manager Todd Dutt isn't saying much. And if we weren't confused enough, he adds a note of uncertainty about that July 31 date, too.

"Why would that one fact come out, but nothing else?" he wondered aloud. "It just seems strange." Could it be a ruse to throw the media off the trail? Hmmm.

Of course, Dutt probably knows exactly when the wedding is. But he probably doesn't know the guest list. The local Hudson Valley News, quoting anonymous sources, reported last week that it included Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw. Former British Prime Minister John Major, too.

And what about the big kahuna? The newspaper also put President Barack Obama on the list of expected guests, reporting that he would land at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York, and take Marine One across the Hudson to Rhinebeck.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, asked if the President would attend, said "Not that I'm aware of" - leaving just a little wiggle room.

Rhinebeck is accustomed to celebrities, in its own low-key way. David Bowie and his wife, Iman, apparently came through not long ago, house-hunting. And actor-director Griffin Dunne's wedding last year reportedly brought in a slew of big names, Sasha Baron Cohen, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban among them.

Still, the star wattage of a Clinton wedding will write a whole new chapter in Rhinebeck's history.

- AP

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