French President, Former Wife Come to America

Mon dieu, America is getting a double dip of the French this week.

The former model and concert pianist Cecilia Sarkozy and her two children are shopping and dining up a storm in New York City as her ex-husband -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- appears at the White House.

But the question is, Cecilia qui? While a photo of the stunning 49-year-old with her children, and buzz about their whereabouts, have been splashed across New York's dailies, even the paparazzi trailing her are puzzled as to why she is getting so much ink.

Splash News' Lawrence Schwartzwald, who photographed Cecilia and her daughter, Jeanne-Marie Martin, with a "mystery man" at the bistro Orsay Nov. 4, had no idea how to recognize her when he got a tip on their location.

"I didn't know what she looked like and was trying to figure things out," said Schwartzwald, who caught the family embracing before security guards chased him down the street.

Cecilia Dove Into Car

Schwartzwald told he called a videographer who was tracking down power couple Tom Cruise and his wife, actress Katie Holmes, who had just run the New York Marathon.

"I told him to lead on this," he said. "I knew this was news."

"I just started shooting and hoped I was aiming at the right person," he said. "Cecilia looked shocked when she saw me, then dove into a car."

John Simion, manager of the Upper East Side celebrity haven Nello, said he would be thrilled to have the former French first lady dine at his restaurant but was not sure it would boost its star appeal.

"I don't know if people other than French customers would recognize her," said Simion, who just this week hosted regular Priscilla Presley and friends. "To be honest, I myself wouldn't recognize her."

The Sarkozys, who had a tumultuous 11-year marriage before announcing their divorce last month, stayed together despite affairs that were splashed across the media. Both have children from previous marriages.

Cecilia's daughter and 10-year-old son Louis, accompanied her to New York this week. Meanwhile, her husband dined at the White House amid speculation that he would bring a date.

Before the French marriage was toast, both spouses declared their taste for everything American. Media reports have said Cecilia has wanted to move to New York, where two years ago she was "publicly cuckolding" her husband with part-Moroccan boyfriend Richard Attias, who runs a PR firm on Sixth Avenue.

New York Is Where I'd Rather Be

New York magazine recently reported that in 2005, when asked where she saw herself in a decade, Cecilia replied, "Living in New York, jogging around Central Park."

Despite her seemingly low profile, gossip columnists say Cecilia's star power is growing, especially because of her "colorful past."

New York Post's Cindy Adams said the topic of dinner party conversation among an "international set" was le divorce. According to the group, her husband would take her back, but they could "never survive PR scrutiny continuing to live the way she chose to live."

Letitia Baldridge, former personal assistant to Jackie Kennedy and doyenne of Washington protocol, told that Cecilia's emerging notoriety bears some parallels to Princess Diana.

After Diana's divorce from Prince Charles, she was photographed on the American social scene with various escorts. "She has the same glamour," Baldridge said.

Indeed, the French president's mystery date for a White House dinner provides additional cachet to his ex-wife, according to Baldridge.

"We love a nice juicy scandal," she said. "People love the mishaps of elected officials."

Cecilia, though hardly a socialite, is an intriguing personality because of her severed ties to the French presidency.

Does She Have Right Stuff?

"A lot of people in politics become social icons," said Baldridge, who noted that Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had to rein in his celebrity-seeking wife, Margaret, in the 1970s.

"Just having money and giving to charity and driving the right car and having beauty pearls and the right kind of dog -- in and of themselves, those are just little labels," she said. "Those things propel you into the press as somebody of import, but we know a lot of people who are trying to get invited to the right parties and embellishing their reputation for the press."

Cecilia's relative anonymity is sure to change, though true social status is hard to attain, especially in New York.

"To be a buzzed-about socialite in New York, one must drop by Le Cirque and various benefit dinners in hotel ballrooms, and occasionally slum downtown to the appropriately upscale event to show you have a sense of humor," said Village Voice celebrity columnist Michael Musto.

Certainly, Cecilia has maintained what Musto calls the "mild air of aloofness," not making herself accessible "for just anything or anyone that's offered," he said.

"Every celebrity in town will want to throw themselves into photos with you, so it's important to weed out the reality TV stars and game show hosts in favor of designers and matinee idols," he said.

Overseas Interest Low

But so far, the latest photo of Cecilia on American turf has drawn less interest than one of Katie Couric.

Lawrence Schwartzwald, who sold both photos to the New York Post, said the one of Couric and her daughter Ellie shopping at Barneys sold to four magazines and the National Inquirer.

Schwartzwald, one of New York's most successful paparazzi, said he also had trouble selling the shot of Cecilia and her children to the European press.

"I got in with agents who sell to France, and no one would touch the video and photos," he said. "They are terrified of power and the privacy laws. Even Spain backed off."

No surprise there. In 2005, Cecilia and her then lover were photographed apartment hunting in New York City. When Paris Match put the photo on its cover, her husband -- Sarkozy -- had the editor in chief fired.