BENEATH 10 INCHES of ice the oxygen-rich water supports many a goldfish in great security through the most awful times.

Unless, of course, the time gets too awful, as it did last year and the year before when fishes froze in 24 solid inches of ice.

But this year, as everyone knows, has been so lovely. Yesterday the fish were swimming free. So gentle and so gracious was this season that the fish added an inch and a half to their growth under the ice.

When the fish are first seen, in good shape, it is possibly the finest day of the whole year. Small goldfish, the kind they sell for food for other animals (or, for all we know, people), can grow to eight inches in 10 months.

There are so many morals in all this that I shall spare you, and get on with the sunny Riviera and Monte Carlo.

The Thursday Luncheon crowd of Washington, I heard, was going off to have lunch at Monte Carlo. I am awfully sorry to report it is not as jet setty or depraved as I had hoped.

The first vision -- all the Thursday lunchers of the capital flying off to the Mediterranean for lunch -- was pretty wonderful, but the actual event is less outrageous; and it does not involve tens of thousands:

William Fitzgerald, president of Independence Federal Saving and Loan Association (which he started in 1968, and now considered a landmark in black enterprise) is behind it all.

Five years ago it struck him that the new city government and the rest of the city needed more togetherness.

"Eight cities in one." said Fitzgerald, and there needed to be more back-and-forth between business, government, professions, arts and so on.

So he invited government types to meet for lunch on Thursday with a small group -- there are only 10 at lunch -- and the idea was for everyone to give his thoughts on the town.

"We have an amnesia door," Fitzgerald said. You keep it to yourself what you hear others sat.In this way inhibitions are removed and people speak frankly.

Fitzgerald thought there ought to be more communication between blacks and whites, especially, and his first idea was to have just a few lunches.

But people seemed to like the idea, and in no time people were letting it be known that they'd ah, just love to come if, ah --

So by now there are more than 700 people who have attended the lunches. A sort of salon. "Like an old English coffee house," Fitzgerald said.

And like an old English coffee house, everybody who has taken part has been invited to go to Monte Carlo in June for a few days.

Just for a change of scene. Just for a fun trip. It's being arranged by a package tour group, and nobody doubts that 150 of the lunch bunch will sign up for the $800 excursion.

'Wouldn't it be better to go right now than wait till June?" I inquired.

"You haven't been reading the Riviera weather reports. They're as bad off right now as we are," Ritzgerald said.

Fortunately we forget the rigors of ice, and always see Monte Carlo as awash in coral and wine and maybe gold florins and plenty of palm trees.

Shakespeare himself, in his play this week on television ("As You Like It"), showed how it happens we forget winter and remember only the dappled beech trees of June.

The setting of the play was the Forest of Arden, a regular English woods, except that Shakespeare added a few palm trees, lions and other improvements. All his characters roam about the forest, and two-thirds of them get married there in the climax scene and it is a great, great thing. It is not supposed to make much sense. it is supposed to carry you away.

I once read an opinion of an idiot, who complained there are, in fact, no palms or lions in a standard English wood.

But then if you want to get picky, there are no Shakespeares in the average ranks of those who snivel about authentic details.

What struck me was that the audience could perfectly well see the discomforts of living in this Forest of Arden, even if a lion failed to eat one:

"Blow, blow, thou winter wind..." as the author clearly states. And everyone remembers the "winter and rough weather," and how the old servant Adam, and Orlando, too, almost starved to death.

And when you think of the problem of laundry, with so many people abroad in the woods, and how there were no horses or Safeways or anything of the kind, it is clear this Forest of Arden was in some respects a fairly neat little hell.

Arden.You never think of the forest as a hell.

To everybody it is an enchanted place where lovers meet and quarrels die. Everybody remembers the winter wind and rough weather and bleeding deer with the tears on his cheek and the anxieties and the mixups and hard words between brothers.

Remembers it and discounts it. All's well that ends well, to coin a phrase, and the Forest of Arden is where things end gloriously, not merely well.

The question is, why are the hard things forgot, in this fairly magical play, and the sunlit enchantment remembered?

I used to think it was just art. Shakespeard's art, at least, can easily persuade you that beauty takes care of, and mightily whips, bad lions.

But now I think it's the audience that is wired up in the brain to begin with to gorget the ice.

Rosalind, the heroine, can hardly have looked too fine after a few weeks sans hairdresser. But you never think of her except radiant, merry. Mary Martin's great-grandmother.

Between the playwright and our natural wiring, we agree quickly that Arden, if it has lions, has magical ones that do not much bother the sheep, and if there is winter there, it is only because we have a fancy for crystals and a change of verdure, not because (as we feel in the reality of a Washington winter) the whole earth has died.

In Arden, we are convinced, as soon as the pretty ice melts, we will see goldfish swimming about. Not only unharmed, but somewhat larger and brighter than they were before. But then that's Shakespeare for you. He can make you believe anything. Especially the truth.