The French Connection. That's the theme of this year's upcoming Meridian House Ball, and the organizers of last night's Blair House reception in honor of the ball's sponsors touched upon that theme in ways innocent enough: loaves of French bread had been sent out earlier; departing guests received splits of Lanson champagne.

But the shadowy side of the analogy, the complications and convolutions, twisted and curled through the crowd as surely as the soft gusts of wind that whispered through the garden court and then were gone.

The intelligence connection:

"I've been sweating it out on the Hill today for six hours," said Director of Central Intelligence Stansfield Turner to a small group in the dusky garden. Then the candor was gone.

"I feel this (the question of Soviet troops in Cuba) is so delicate an issue that I don't want to talk to the press," he said when queried.

The Florida Connection:

Chief of Protocol Kit Dobelle and husband Evan, national chairman of the Carter/Mondale Reelection Committee, were the hosts. He wasn't there.

"He's in Florida raising money," said Mrs. Dobelle, who is still the official chief of protocol ("until they find a replacement") although she is also working in her new position as director of Rosalynn Carter's East Wing staff.

No, this surprise absence had nothing to do with the Kennedy threat. "The campaign was always organized with the idea that the president would have strong opposition. There has always been the expectation of a tough campaign -- all of the president's campaigns have been tough right from the first one," she continued in her slow, measured tones.

And then she drifted away with, "Of course, the president hasn't announced for reelection; he's spending his time being president . . . ."

The Almost Missed Connection:

Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) just made it to the reception. "I'm just back from Florida, where I was talking to the Miami Elephant Club," he said, in response to a question about a Kennedy candidacy. "Florida has a great sugar surplus and I was talking about gasohol fuel that could be made from grain and sugar."

The Louisiana Connection:

Former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu and Mrs. Landrieu were anticipating their move to Washington, which hinges on his confirmation as the new secretary of HUD. "The committee has approved it, now it's just a matter of trying to get up speed."

Landrieu's confirmation ran into some snags when a possible conflict of interest was discovered, and he obligingly divested himself of the holdings in question and also, incidentally, got rid of property that could be worth as much as $5 million in the next five years.

"Oh, there's another side to that, too," he shrugged of the economic sacrifice. "The development business is high risk. Sure, I could have made that much and I also could have lost everything in a year. I came to serve my country."

There's a degree of risk in that choice too. Landrieu acknowledged it, but maintained that he was "excited" about coming to Washington.

"It's a great honor to be asked to serve at any level, no matter how brief the period may be . . ."

The Constant Connection:

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Livingston Biddle and wife Catharina had just returned from a vacation "castle-hopping" through Ireland and Scotland. "We met some of the arts people in both countries and you know what they said," twinkled the chairman, raising his hand and crooking his index finger in mock severity. "'We have this problem about elitism vs. egalitarianism in the arts'"

The Meridian Connection:

Last night's reception was for the 14 embassies that are sponsoring this year's 11th annual Meridian House Ball on Oct. 4. Meridian House, according to staff member Randa Resnick is "an international way-station" for foreign guests to this country that provides services for all visitors, from ambassadors to students and tourists. Money raised at the ball will go toward expanding their programs throughout the country.

"Meridian House is a copy of a French town house," said this year's ball chairman, Elaine Silverstein. "That's why we decided on the 'French Connection' theme."

All in all, it seems a good choice.