In a cavernous conference room in the bowels of UN headquarters, presidents, potentates and princes were cajoled and bullied by a man from Kodak, to stand straight, stop chatting and to "smile as prettily" as the few women leaders among them. "I thank you, Kodak thanks you and the whole world will thank you for coming along this morning," he said. Jiang Zemin of China seemed amused; Nelson Mandela of South Africa, looked as grim as his shirt was colourful.
In other regards, the three-day jamboree of 140 heads of state and government, the largest in the history of humankind, threatened to spin into glorious and untrammelled disorder. The five-minute rule that every leader is meant to respect at the podium to speak was violated by the first to get there: President Bill Clinton. His speech lasted 15 minutes.
Nor was the chaos limited to the UN building. Ask any ordinary mortal who was trying to navigate the streets of Manhattan this weekend. As the myriad delegations sped about town in block-long motorcades, entire sections of the city were closed to traffic.
At 7am yesterday, when the leaders were already out of their beds and rolling towards the UN tower, the east side of midtown Manhattan was eerily empty. The normally jammed canyons of First and Second Avenues were deserted as far as the eye could see, except for galaxies of flashing police lights and and the occasional black-limousined caravan of one leader or another.
Barely visible was the security blanket, surely one of the most intense ever deployed. Roof-tops revealed sharp-shooters, just one element of an operation involving 3,000 US secret service agents and a large part of the New York police force. Among police concerns were various street protests orchestrated by opponents of leaders including Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Cuba's Fidel Castro, whose daughter, Alina Fernandez Revuelta, was leading the agitation against him.
First among the parties were dinners offered last night by President Clinton at the New York Library and by the New York Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, at the World Financial Center on Saturday. Pork, beef and shellfish were left off the menus to avoid giving offence to any of the guests. "Not all of our parties are capable of starting the Third World War, although with some of our weddings you might think so," remarked Liz Newmark of the catering company for Mr Giuliani's bash.
President Castro was not invited to either occasion. He, however, was set to be feted by thousands of supporters at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church at a special service in his honour in Harlem last night.
There will be a few faces absent from the soon-to-be-historic Kodak moment. Saddam Hussein was not there, nor was Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. Two faces that might have graced the front row, Helmut Kohl of Germany and John Major, were also missing. Mr Kohl, to general consternation, is not coming to New York, while Mr Major opted to pass on the first day of fun and was due to ariive in town late last night.Reuse content