Trials and tribulations of a Rocky metropolis

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The Independent Online
When a provincial city like Denver - however spectacular its mountain backdrop or its urban renewal programme - is chosen to host a high-flying international gathering, it is supposed to feel honoured and privileged. Not so this Mid-Western metropolis on the edge of the Rockies, whose welcoming banners and general interest in the event are the least conspicuous I have seen in a good few years of such meetings. No, so far as Denver is concerned, the world's seven richest nations, plus Russia, should feel honoured to be here.

The city has only just managed to squeeze them in between two of this year's biggest American legal cases: the trial of Timothy McVeigh for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (which ended a week ago with McVeigh sentenced to death) and crucial developments that are expected imminently in a case that has all America panting for its slightest nuance.

On Christmas Eve, a six-year-old girl by the name of JonBenet Ramsey was found dead in the cellar of the family house near Boulder, Colorado, just up the road from here. JonBenet was a child beauty queen and the daughter of a former Miss America. Despite a battery of tests, no-one has been arrested. JonBenet's parents have been questioned, but not charged. A report on the test results was reportedly delivered to the police on Thursday, but details have not been released. The suspicion is that the authorities are waiting until all we G7 reporters leave Denver, lest we race up to Boulder and leave the world's leaders to consort in private. Note to Denver hoteliers: Don't worry, we'll be back for the trial.

Critics of Euro-extravagance will be delighted to learn that the only delegation not to travel to Denver by private plane was the observer delegation from the European Union - specifically, from the Netherlands, which currently holds the EU presidency. We passengers on United Airlines flight 1731 from Washington DC to Denver on Thursday afternoon were intrigued to be asked "one extra favour" as we touched down.

Would we please remain seated for "a few more minutes" because "We do have the Dutch delegation on board with their 17 secret service agents". This posed a number of questions. While rejoicing to see that the Dutch were prepared to mix it with the rest of us (up to a point - the three ministers were in first class), 17 secret servicemen for a delegation of three seemed generous. My neighbour, a Mid-Western lawyer, was more forthright. "Why did we need to know?" he asked. "We could have told someone." Indeed we could. Each row of seats was equipped with a phone and fulsome encouragement to use it. "Why not: check voice-mail/call the office/phone the kids?" it flashed before us. Note the American priorities.

Talking of the secret service, the US administration will understandably not say how many of its employees have been assigned to Denver for this weekend, but the locals guess that it is about half the country's total strength of 2,100. They claim to see them lurking everywhere, and for a quiet city like Denver with one of the lower urban crime rates in the US they are doubtless pretty obvious. The consolation is that with the Russians now on "our" side and the Chinese allegedly paying millions into President Clinton's re-election fund, leaving Washington uncovered may be a good deal less risky than it used to be.

It's strange what host cities think reporters need. The press centre at Denver has a hairdressing/barber's salon in one corner of the press hall. Even the French - who hosted last year's summit in Lyon - did not consider giving us a haircut: a little foie gras, by all means, a decent Beaujolais, of course, but not a haircut. They understood what the Americans will never understand: Europeans and Japanese would prefer not to be coiffed in the full view of their colleagues.