To the roaring, screeching Amtrak trains approaching Rhinecliff station from the north or south, add the occasional thwack-thwack-thwack of helicopter rotors.
Do those choppers carry Secret Service agents trying to secure the entrance to Astor Courts
, the Versailles-inspired private mansion above the Hudson River, where former first daughter Chelsea Clinton is set to marry investment banker Marc Mezvinsky, her great pal since their teenage days in Washington who became so very much more in recent years?
Or have those whirlybirds been hired by TV crews and reporters seeking dramatic aerial shots of Rhinebeck, the wealthy enclave 90 minutes north of Manhattan, when they're not sneaking through the woods shooting long views of the home and grounds or sussing out possible water approaches, the better to cover what some locals now call the "wedding of the century" on July 31?
A bit of both, no doubt, given the escalating interest in the union that last summer was widely rumored to be taking place on Martha's Vineyard.
Never happened, of course. Now The Wall Journal has floated a "conspiracy theory"
possibility -- that Astor Courts is a decoy venue and that the wedding may be held somewhere else entirely -- citing conjecture by some Rhinebeck officials who say they have yet to be consulted by the Secret Service or anyone else on matters of public safety and logistics.
Two weeks hence, the only child of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will marry one of 11 biological and adopted progeny from an eclectically blended family headed by a pair of former congressional Democrats. In 1970, TV journalist Marjorie Margolies became, at 28, America's first single woman to adopt a child from a foreign country (a little Korean girl, soon joined by a Vietnamese sister). By 1975, Margolies had married Rep. Edward Mezvinsky of Iowa, who brought along four daughters from his previous marriage. Together they had sons Marc and Andrew, and adopted three Vietnamese boys.
Family size notwithstanding, the bride and groom have much in common, including a Stanford undergraduate education, stints on Wall Street, and scorching family scandals. Who can forget the 1998 photo of Chelsea as the stoic, hand-holding link between her embattled parents after her father's dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky became public, leading ultimately to his House impeachment and Senate acquittal?
Starting in 1980, lawyer Ed Mezvinsky embarked on a $10 million, 20-year scheme of fraud, whose many victims included his own mother-in-law. Margolies-Mezvinsky
-- who lost her House seat in 1994 after a single term for casting the deciding vote on Clinton's budget package -- divorced her felon husband, who was paroled in 2008 after spending five years in federal prison.
But that was then, this is now, and today's secrets and evasions mostly involve menus and venues, guest lists, gift registries and gowns for the bridal party.
Nearly all members of the ClintVinsky clans and claques, plus event producers, chefs, waiters, dishwashers, publicists and florists who have any part in any of the nuptial activities are under orders to maintain a Sphinx-like silence, sometimes enforced by mandatory confidentiality agreements. Even the most garrulous and gossip-prone family members and friends have clammed up.
On the other hand, being mother of the bride has its perks, and Clinton herself has spilled a thing or two while on her State Department travels. In Poland on July 3, she told Krakow Television
that the wedding "is truly the most important thing in my life right now. Luckily we have e-mail now. I can communicate and people can send me pictures of flower arrangements and other kinds of decisions."
And in May, she explained the American bridal shower tradition
on China's Central Television. "It is not where you go in and have a shower," she said. "It is where friends of the bride and family come together and you give gifts to the bride and you tell stories and you show pictures of when she was a little girl. There will be a lot of that activity" before the marriage.
The intended news blackout hasn't stopped the uptick of breathless Rhinebeck-centric nuptial, mercantile and culinary factoids from locals
, ranging from Chelsea's purchase of two $178 lavender-cream-and-taupe sofa pillows from Hammertown, an upscale home store, to the choice of the pricey, aggressively locavore Terrapin Restaurant to cater the rehearsal dinner in a stone barn at Grasmere, a Revolutionary-era estate with several buildings on 525 bucolic acres.
The Hudson Valley News trumpeted the names
of what it claimed were several high-wattage invitees, including the Obamas, Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Ted Turner, Democratic money man Terry McAuliffe, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and even former British Prime Minister John Major.
Oprah is possibly the most counterintuitive, given that she actively pushed Obama's White House primary run against Hillary Clinton. "We have not received an invitation," Don Halcombe, commuications director of her Harpo Studios, told me. Who knows if anyone else on the newspaper's list has been invited, or plans to attend. One person I spoke with, who is going, implored: "Please don't even say you talked to me. We're supposed to be told next week where the wedding will actually be held."
The Hudson Valley News also reported that Air Force One would deliver the current first couple to Stewart Airport, across the river in Newburgh, and that Marine One would deposit them on the opposite shore. Fortunately, reports the Daily Beast, one Countess Iliana Kerckerinck van Meeteren not only has a private helipad on her estate for just such contingencies, she has graciously granted landing rights to select other wedding guests. But the Wall Street Journal story says the parent company of the Sikorsky Aircraft Group, which makes the Marine One choppers, has asked about the availability of the helipad at Rhinebeck's Dutchess County fairgrounds.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters he knew nothing about a presidential wedding jaunt, but maybe even the commander in chief has agreed to zip his lip and not discuss his plans with staff for now, rather than tick off the mother of the bride as she juggles foreign policy and seating charts.
To be sure, she has hired Bryan Rafanelli and his high-end, high-profile Boston event planning firm. But she may also be getting some off-hours help from Capricia Marshall, her chief of protocol and former White House social secretary, whose entire working life has been spent in what is affectionately known as Hillaryland, and who oversaw Chelsea's handlers during her mother's 2008 White House run.
Meanwhile, a National Enquirer reporter has been poking around Little Rock -- where Hill and Bill spent nearly two decades -- perhaps hoping to learn who among the bride's side homies are on a guest list initially pegged at 400 people by New York Magazine. It is now at 500, according to the Hudson Valley News and RadarOnline.com.
Arkansas is where Chelsea, 30, and her father were born, and where he served one term as attorney general and five terms as governor before running for president in 1992.
Good local bets to be invited (along with spouses, of course): Bruce Lindsey, Clinton's campaign alter ego who now runs the William J. Clinton Foundation in Little Rock and New York; Mack McLarty Clinton's White House chief of staff and now an international consultant; oil millionaire Mike Coulson; interior designer Kaki Hockersmith, who worked on White House decor; and kin of the late Dick Kelley, Clinton's cherished stepfather. My PD colleague Suzi Parker, hoping for a hometown wedding, assembled her own dream team
of likely invitees.
Why such interest in Chelsea and Marc's wedding, which seems to have outpaced the curiosity two years ago about then-first daughter Jenna Bush's marriage to Henry Hager (which took place at the family ranch in Texas rather than the White House)?
"Because Chelsea's father was a beloved president and he is still a beloved figure," said longtime Brides magazine editor Millie Martini Bratten, "and because both parents sort of feel like family members to us, and because we watched Chelsea grow up, and as with any family wedding, we want the details, the dress she is wearing."
Ah yes, the dress. Bratten thinks Chelsea is going with Oscar de la Renta, a Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush favorite, who created Jenna's embroidered, beaded organza gown.
And when the honeymoon is over and the thank-you notes written, we'll wish the newlyweds much happiness in the 10th-floor, three-bedroom, 1,922-square-foot apartment Mezvinksky, 32, bought in New York's Flatiron district for just under $4 million in 2008, when he was working for Goldman Sachs.
By summer's end, Clinton will return to Columbia University, where she's studying for a master's degree in public health, and Mezvinsky will return to the world of high finance.
And still more questions remain.
Will the bride keep her own name, following the lead of her mother, who went by Hillary Rodham after her 1975 marriage, only appending Clinton when her husband lost his re-election bid for governor? (Subsequent stints as first lady of Arkansas came after she stumped for him using both surnames). Or will Chelsea go the route of her mother-in-law and become Clinton Mezvinsky, with or without a hyphen?
Come to think of it, might the groom also alter his moniker in a 21st century salute to his wife and the very strong mothers who reared the newlyweds?
Perhaps he'll become Marc Mezvinsky Clinton. Or Marc Clinton Mezvinsky, with or without a hyphen.
So much to ponder before the big day . . .