Getty Images/Andrew Theodorakis-Poo
NEW YORK - APRIL 9: U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea attend a fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall where songwriter Elton John performed April 9, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Theodorakis-Pool/Getty Images)
``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, N.Y., a charming town on the Hudson dotted with galleries, boutiques, upscale 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, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham 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 center, 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 Road.
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 $12 million, local real estate agents say. 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 past spring. Chelsea walked right into her store and browsed among the designer jeans.
``She couldn't have been sweeter,'' said Caridi.
Rhinebeck, a town of about 8,000 an easy two-hour drive from New York City, may not be the most obvious choice for a wedding of American political royalty as would, say, Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod or the Hamptons but it makes sense for the Clintons. Bill and Hillary Clinton live just under 75 miles away in Chappaqua, N.Y., 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 only started dating him in the past few years. He is a son of former Pennsylvania Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky and former Iowa Rep. 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's seen signs of pre-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. ``They say Rhinebeck is the Hamptons of the north, but we argue with that. We just want to be Rhinebeck! 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 rumored to be involved with the wedding.
Maybe. You can ask, but Gendron won't bite. ``I cannot disclose,'' he said repeatedly while showing a visitor the garden out back where he's planted 16 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. But sing the praises of Rhinebeck? That he could do.
``Great farms, great food, and exclusive mansions, beautifully restored,'' he said. ``And you won't find a McDonald's in Rhinebeck!'' 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 $30?
Seems like a good bet only because manager Todd Dutt isn't saying much. Except about the virtues of Rhinebeck. ``We're about great food, antiques, clothing stores and just friendly people,'' he said.
OK, OK, but what about the wedding? Dutt, who could probably get a job as a press secretary for a politician if he wanted to, won't say they're involved, but won't say they aren't.
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 Barack Obama on the list of expected guests, reporting that the president would land at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y., 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.
If not Obama, maybe Vice President Joe Biden? That was the rumor du jour at Village Pizza, where owner Al Mazzella said he'd heard it from ``a good source.'' One former vice president is not attending: A spokesman for Al Gore, recently separated from his wife, Tipper, has said neither will be attending, though it's not clear if they were invited.
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.
``People come in, asking what we've heard,'' says Mazzella. ``I myself don't ask. But I'm all ears if anyone wants to tell me.''