Decision: Valerie Trierweiler, girlfriend of French President Francois Hollande. Photo: Reuters
Paris: What a difference a week makes. On Monday, Valerie Trierweiler, France's informal First Lady was hosting an exclusive private screening of Yves Saint Laurent, the acclaimed biopic on the late couturier.
At the cocktail party that followed, where fashionistas, Vogue editors and cabinet ministers mingled under the gilt ceilings of the Elysee with a few handpicked political journalists, the president's elegant partner distilled confidences amid the air kisses, ranging from how hard "Francois" was working "for France" to her plans to extend her own charitable missions to India.
At that moment, Ms Trierweiler could have been forgiven for thinking that, after a very rocky start, she had established her problematic role as the country's First Girlfriend - the unmarried partner of a 59-year-old president who had never quite wanted to tie the knot with anyone.
Scandal: French President Francois Hollande. Photo: AFP
That was then. On Saturday, after the previous day's claims, backed by apparent photo evidence in the gossip magazine Closer, that President Francois Hollande had been two-timing her with an actress almost a decade her junior, Ms Trierweiler is pondering her options.
The decision may not be solely hers to make: Mr Hollande's political advisers have advised the president, who is scheduled to give a major press conference next Tuesday, that he must make "a clean sweep" within the next 48 hours. Otherwise, they warn, his formal political announcements risk being overshadowed by speculation about his private affairs.
The president apparently knows of more alleged pictures being offered to Paris magazines. He has not denied he was seeing Julie Gayet, 41, the daughter of a personal friend, the renowned Paris surgeon Professor Brice Gayet.
"A clean sweep" therefore can only mean enacting Ms Trierweiler's departure. But clean sweeps are what Mr Hollande has spent a lifetime avoiding, in his private as well as in his political life.
The highly regarded political journalist Cecile Amar, in her forthcoming presidential biography, tells of Elysee aides being harshly reprimanded but never let go; of political enemies alternately frozen out, then brought back into the cabinet because Mr Hollande believes he can control them better there.
Everyone in France knows that Mr Hollande maintained for several years the polite fiction that he still lived with Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children and his partner for 23 years, even though he had moved to Ms Trierweiler's 15th arrondissement flat.
All that while, political journalists happily traded among themselves the names of many beauties who were apparently being squired by the then Socialist Party's first secretary.
As a friend of the conservative former president Jacques Chirac and as a former youthful aide in Francois Mitterrand's Elysee, Mr Hollande presumably felt he could bank on the traditional French attitude to politicians' privacy. His official reaction to the Closer allegations has been to "greatly deplore [the] invasion of his private life, to which he has a right as any other citizen does", no doubt recalling his mentors' long-unreported escapades.
Yet all indications are of a sea change in French attitudes. Of 45,000 respondents to "Does his affair with Julie Gayet make the President look more sympathetic or discredited?" on the Closer website, 78 per cent answered "discredited". Out of nearly 3000 answers to the question "Should politicians' private lives be off-limits?" on the site of Challenges, France's closest answer to The Economist, 77 per cent said "no".
This comes as a sharp contrast to the unanimity displayed by almost all leading French politicians, from the far Left to the far Right, who all protested that Mr Hollande's private life should be his concern only.
And yet it is possible that Mr Hollande may shy away from taking a final decision over what to do about his women between now and Tuesday.
In which case Ms Trierweiler may face the harshest choice of them all: whether to go back to the Elysee despite her partner's betrayal, or to throw to the wind everything she has built in the past decade.