Blossoming chestnuts cast their shade over the bookstalls along the Seine, traffic wheeled insanely around the Place de 1'Etoile and the first tourists with their cameras sank contentedly last week into chairs at sidewalk cafes.
But to French politicians, the coming of spring meant revival of that heady atmosphere they call "Après De Gaulle.'' With presidential elections just two years away, it has simultaneously occurred to many pundits that De Gaulle may become ill, die, be assassinated, or just decide not to run. The infectious presidential fever has spread to all parties. On the non-Gaullist side, possible candidates range from Antoine Pinay (at 71, he may be too old) to the last Premier of the Fourth Republic, Pierre Pflimlin, to the glib Radical spokesman, Maurice Faure. The Socialists have contenders in veteran Guy Mollet and the shrewd, affable mayor of Marseille. Gaston Defferre.
Most prominent on the Gaullist side are Premier Georges Pompidou, the National Assembly's tennis-playing President Jacques Chaban-Delmas and ex-Premier Michel Debré. Recently elected as a Deputy from Reunion Island, Debré cannily refused the confining job of faction leader of the Gaullists in order to establish him self as Mr. Fixit for problems throughout the country. Under the spur of Debré's competition, Pompidou is now functioning more like a politician and less like a banker turned statesman. In nationwide broadcasts, he has proved to be a relaxed, avuncular performer and has displayed wit as well as competence in the National Assembly.
Into this list of hopefuls, the intellectual, left-wing L'Express last week introduced a weirdly different suggestion. It claimed that De Gaulle's own choice as his successor is none other than Henri d'Orleans, 54, Comte de Paris, descendant of King Henri IV, and Pretender to the throne of France. L'Express pointed to the warm personal friendship between the count and De Gaulle, recalled that le grand Charles's earliest political sympathies were monarchist, and noted that the Count's Gaullist leanings had made him a target of a bombing by Secret Army terrorists. L'Express concluded: "This vision is one which haunts De Gaulle's meditations, and it would reconcile two heretofore an tagonistic principlesmonarchy and republicin a single legitimacy, that of royal descent and universal suffrage."
Only trouble with this vision is that L'Express hates De Gaulle and would be the last paper to know what he is thinking. Paris-Presse characterized the story as little more than "a good question to toss out to get a dinner conversation going."