NO MATTER WHICH OCCASION PRINCESS Caroline of Monaco chose to mark her first official appearance since her husband, Stefano Casiraghi, was killed in a powerboat accident last October, speculation about her physical and emotional state was guaranteed to be intense. There was some sad symbolism, however, to the fact that she returned to public view at the 24th annual International Flower Arranging Competition in Monaco May 4; sporting a new haircut, large sunglasses and clad in a simple black dress, she seemed as fragile and fussed-over as the entries themselves.

Still, the principality's citizens were happy simply to lay eyes on their Princess again. "I think it's fantastic that she's finally feeling well enough to appear in public," one resident commented. "No matter how she looks."

She looked not all that well. With her luxurious locks chopped off in favor of a stern blunt cut (which Paris Match claimed was modeled after her grandmother's hair), Caroline was pale, tired and quite obviously strained. Her hour-long visit to the competition—accompanied by her father, Prince Rainier—startled even those familiar with the comings and goings of the royal family. "Her presence was not scheduled, was not announced, and she surprised everyone," said a Monaco Press Center spokesman.

The appearance sparked speculation about whether Caroline was ready to become active again or simply honoring the memory of her late mother, since flower arranging was a pet hobby of Princess Grace's. Caroline now holds her mother's title of president of the Garden Club of Monaco, which organizes the flower competition.

With a slate of official events looming in the coming weeks—including the May 15 World Music Awards—Caroline will have ample opportunity to show the people of Monaco if her period of mourning has finally ended. Most observers, though, feel the Princess is not yet ready to resume her place as the most active royal sibling. "Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie will be at the music awards, but there has been no official word regarding Caroline," said a spokesperson for the awards. "I doubt very much that she's in the type of mood for this lighthearted event."