Twin Cities prepare to welcome the Republicans

Don’t mention Fargo, the Coen Brothers film with the dead body in the wood chipper, because the folks in Minnesota never did care for it. On the other hand, there are some other clichés about this corner of the country that seem to hold good. The Mall of America really is gigantic. They are good at stoicism here.

That last quality may come from the preponderance of Nordic stock in the state. They need it to put up with the winters that can make Lapland seem like Lanzarote and summers when mosquitoes rise like dark clouds from Minnesota’s million and one lakes. And to deal with unexpected disappointment.

A whiff of anxiety was seeping from the manhole covers around the Xcel Centre in downtown St Paul. (Well, there might have been had the police not welded the covers down for fear peace activists might to use them as weapons against unsuspecting Republicans.) The work of preparing the convention was done and a weather event a thousand miles south was threatening to spoil the party.

And they really have gone |out of their way. It is not just the motionless herds of topiary elephants that greeted delegates in their hotels last night, and all the receptions and dinners being laid on for them. The people of the Twin Cities are getting ready to change some of their most ingrained habits.

They have pledged to eat lunch later than usual – that means not sitting down, napkin on lap, at 11.30 am – and even more dramatically, to stay up later. By order of someone important, the laws have been changed for four days only to allow bars to stay open beyond the normal two in the morning until (gasp) four. No one is going to leave here saying that Minnesotans don’t know how to have a good time.

More challenging is to get through this week without letting anyone notice the bitter sibling rivalry that exists between Minneapolis and the somewhat smaller St Paul, separated by 15 minutes in your rental car. The Xcel Centre is in the latter but Republicans are giving both cities equal billing for the convention, to the chagrin of St Paul, which is terrified we might notice that Minneapolis is more fun.

Save for last year’s bridge tragedy, the Twin Cities don’t normally get a lot of attention. It may suit them normally, but now they have gussied themselves up for the Republicans, it would be a shame if a hurricane called Gustav eclipsed the convention or, heaven forbid, led to its curtailment or cancellation.

With most of the delegations already in town last night and the schedule of receptions and parties already well under way, cancellation seemed hardly a viable option. But at one party at least – for the 15,000 reporters accredited to cover the convention – at the stunning Guthrie Theatre here on Saturday night, the conversation was all Gustav and which airlines offered the best connections to New Orleans.

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