Lafayette, he is here. So are Rochambeau, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Matisse, Voltaire and, s.urtout, L'Enfant. This is, apr,es tout, the place that Pierre planned, and he'd be happy to know that the grand boulevards he gave us now have Paris-style sidewalk cafes, bistros and p.atisseries, that there are probably more crepes per square inch here than in any Breton village, that Washingtonians are draped in French couture and steeped in French culture. This weekend and next -- with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival focusing on things French -- the city's French accent will be even more pronounced. So brush up your franglais and dust off your beret and come along on a tour of our own Paris-on-the-Potomac.
L'AUBERGE: By any other name that's a country inn, and we have our very own French country inn in the wilds of Great Falls, Virginia. When his popular downtown restaurant got in the way of progress a few years ago, Francois Haeringer took his aquarium tanks, his Alsatian decor and his hearty, non-nouvelle cuisine to the country, where he has space to grow his own herbs. Whereas you could usually walk into the downtown Chez Francois any old time, it takes about two weeks to get a dinner reservation at the Auberge Chez Francois. That's almost as much planning ahead as you need to reserve at one of the great country inns of Burgundy, but at least you can telephone in English. Try the sorrel soup, the salmon souffle and the Tokay d'Alsace. And on the way to your car, throw a blow of the eye, as the French say, to the back stoop where you'll probably see the help peeling potatoes and chattering away en francais. It's a scene Renoir would have relished.
YOU GIVE ME BACK MY CLOTHES AND I'LL GIVE YOU BACK YOUR SWORD: Someone steeped in the French penchant for naughty postcards made up this naughty caption for the statue of Lafayette in the southeast corner of Lafayette Park, but actually the half-naked female is only an allegory. She symbolizes America and she's handing the sword to the 19-year-old marquis and asking him to join our fight. On the same pedestal, though not quite as high, are other Frenchmen who joined in our lutte: the Comte de Grasse, the Comte de Rochambeau, the Comte d'Estaing and the Chevalier du Portail.
LES BIJOUX: Louis Francois Cartier started making jewelry in Paris back in 1847, and his spiritual descendants recently opened the firm's 111th store, right here at 5454 Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase. While the ancien Cartier confined its work to such things as diamond tiaras suitable for coronations, today things are slightly more democratic. Cartier's tank watch, a tribute to the American tank corps, can be yours for as little as $650.
LES CHATEAUX: Every man's home may be his chateau, but there are some houses here actually built in emulation of the grand country castles of France. Meridian House, at 1630 Crescent Place NW, was built in 1920 as an imitation of an 18th-century, Louis Seize chateau. The limestone mansion, draped with sculpted cherubs, sits smack in the middle of the city but its walled garden and pollarded linden trees give it a country ambiance. Another city chateau, this one in the 16th-century style with turrets and flying buttresses, stands at 3149 16th Street NW and serves as offices for the D.C. Department of Recreation. Out in our own mini-Loire Valley along River Road in Potomac, there are a mellowed white-brick chateau with the characteristic long sloping roof at 9401 River Road and a grandiose chateau-in-progress at 9119. Take a left on Falls Road and follow it to Alloway and you'll find an entire cul-de-sac of brand new chateaux. Le prix: $825,000. If you want to help preserve old French chateaux and other buildings in their native land and get in on special tours of same, sign up with the Friends of Vieilles Maisons Francaises. The Washington chapter's address is 1525 H Street NW 20005.
CUISINE DES FEMMES: That's French for home cooking, and the Rev. Herbert Stein-Schneider boasts that you can find it only at the Wednesday French luncheons in the basement of St. John's parish house on Lafayette Square. Stein-Schneider's boasting is understandable because la cuisiniere is none other than his wife, Anne, a native of the Auvergne. The price of $4.50 includes such plats as oeufs chasseur with rice and vegetables, a simple dessert, a glass of wine and good conversation -- which must be in French. There's usually an after-lunch speech, also in French. The church also conducts Protestant services in French every Sunday at 4 and sponsors several conversation and social groups with no religious focus. Call 759-2121.
OU SE TROUVE LE LOUVRE?: Right next to the Maison Blanche. President Grant inspected the "New Louvre" on a trip to Paris and promptly ordered the construction of a similarly grandiose building to house the State, War and Navy departments. Seventeen years in the making, our local Louvre is now known as the Old Executive Office Building. You won't find a Mona Lisa or a Venus de Milo under the mansard roofs and porticos of the 566-room wedding cake, and you're not allowed in except on official business, but you can admire the garden vases outside. They were designed by Captain -- later General -- Douglas MacArthur.
LE CONCORDE: Not the plane, but the plain French cafe of the same name stands, or rather crouches under the weight of a multi-story parking structure, at 1415 H Street NW. The owner used to run a restaurant in chic Neuilly, but now her eatery is in the arrondissement of adult book joints. It's a place where old Piaf records serenade sans cesse, where cliche paintings smile down on Perrier bottles filled with plastic flowers. Try the platter of p.at,e piled with salad and accompanied by French bread. Wash it down with a carafe of vin de Californie.
A ROSE IS A ROSE, EVEN IF IT MOVES TO FRANCE: Gertrude Stein reigned as mother-confessor to a generation of Americans in France, and the National Museum of American Art will screen an 89-minute film biography of this grande dame and patron of the arts this Sunday at noon and three. Free tickets to these limited-seating shows are available at the information desk. The Stein film is a sort of companion piece to the museum's current exhibit of 113 paintings by American expatriates who worked in Brittany and Normandy between 1860 and 1910.
VIVE L'ANDOUILLETTE: Truffles? Certainment. Also chesnut pur,ee, canned sorrel and just about anything else your French cookbooks call for. But the best thing about the French Market at 1632 Wisconsin Avenue is the butcher counter, where you can practice your French on the butchers as they shape a lamb duck for you or count out a dozen delicious andouillette sausages. You can tell the butchers are French by the way they draw little hearts on the paper they wrap your meat in.
VOLTAIRE-IN-THE-ROUND: Right here in our own jardin, Arena Stage has cultivated a best-of-all-possible versions of the caustic philosopher's novella, "Candide," with music by Leonard Bernstein. It's haute farce with lots of trap doors and the philosophe himself played by veteran Arena actor Richard Bauer. For variations on Voltaire, see his busts by sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon in the ground- floor galleries at the National Gallery of Art. One shows the Enlightenment's light in aristocratic clothes wearing a wig, while another portrays him in severe, Roman Republican style.
A LA MODE: French fashion is as American as apple pie, and discount fashion outlets over there are becoming as French as camembert. Our local French fashion discount house is Noel at 2015 L Street NW. Plain racks hold cut- rate fashions by Ted Lapidus, Yves St. Laurent and other Paris-based designers.
WHO ATE MILLES FEUILLES WITH JOSEPHINE WHILE BONAPARTE WAS AWAY? Chez nous, we call those cream- filled, layered puff pastries "Napoleons," but the original French name, typically hress is 1yerbolic, means "a thousand leaves." Anyway, Napoleon was inordinately fond of them, which may be why he's often depicted with his hand inside his jacket patting his stomach. Jacques-Louis David's painting of the soldier-emperor in his post-milles feuilles pose may be seen in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, part of a superb French collection that includes Watteaus, Fragonards, Ingres, Degas, Manets, Corots, Pissarros, Monets, Renoirs, and others. The Gallery's East Building features "small French paintings" from the Ailsa Mellon Bruce bequest and a tower full of immense cut-outs by Henri Matisse.
"I AM CHARMING TO SEE YOU": That's how the Baroness Hyde de Neuville, wife of the French minister to Washington circa 1816, used to greet guests to her frequent parties. The popular diplomatic couple spent the Napoleonic era in exile in New Jersey, then moved to Washington in triumph to represent the restored royals. They lived first on F Street, just across from the now embattled Rhodes Tavern, then at Decatur House on Lafayette Park. The baroness, when she wasn't giving parties, was painting watercolors. Her painting of the tavern across the street is now used as a weapon by both sides in the tavern battle. The save-the- tavern folks use the watercolor to show how beautiful the building is under all that stucco, while the anti-tavern people use it to prove that the building wasn't a tavern at all but a bank. (Actually, when the baroness depicted it, sometime after 1816, the building was a boarding house that rented part of its ground floor to the Bank Metropole.)
LIBERTE, EGALITE, SORORITE: Who is the only female military leader honored here by an equestrian statue? But of course, Joan of Arc. A bronze statue of the voice-hearing young heroine stands at the top of the fountains in Meridian Hill Park, a gift from the women of France to the women of the United States. Another French, female, teenage saint immortalized here -- this one in marble -- is Bernadette of Lourdes. She kneels in a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes on the grounds of the Franciscan Monastery at 14th and Quincy streets NE.
IN PARIS THEY DANCE IN THE STREETS: In Washington we carry trays of uncorked champagne through the streets. It's to celebrate the storming of the big, bad Bastille on July 14, 1789. Waiters and waitresses compete to see who can carry a bottle of champagne and two glasses from Dominique's restaurant to a finish line in front of the White House. Winners, losers, well-wishers and onlookers drink the bubbly after the race at Dominique's and toast la belle France. If you want to join in the celebration toasting, better reserve now. Call 452-1126.
FRANCOPHONIA: It's not a medical condition but an all-in- French radio show. You can tune it in chaque dimanche -- that's every Sunday -- at 1 p.m. on WHFS, 102.3 FM. If you have trouble understanding the words, sign up for a French course at the Alliance Francaise (234-7911). Members are also invited to films, lectures and short courses in French cuisine. If you want to immerse yourself in French children's lit this summer, sign up for a course at the Children's French and Spanish Libraries at the Children's Museum of Washington at 4954 MacArthur Boulevard NW (337-4954).
PLUS CA CHANGE. . .: Back in the 1830s, satirical artist Honor,e Daumier sculpted 36 busts caricaturing deputies in the parliament of citizen-king Louis-Philippe, whose regime Daumier opposed. A hundred and fifty years may have passed, but today's legislators look remarkably like Daumier's. Take a look at Daumier's rogues gallery in the ground-floor galleries at the National Gallery of Art and see if you recognize your own congressman or senator. Also in the ground-floor galleries is a beautiful white-and-gilt Louis Seize salon.
IFFYOU CAN'T READ THE BOOK, SEE THE BALLET: Roland Petit's Ballet National de Marseille is at the Kennedy Center through July 3, and some of the choreography is based on French literature, such as Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past." For ticket information, call 254-3770.
FRENCH CINEMA: Films currently in town or on their way include: "La Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie" and "The Rise of Louis XIV," June 28 and 29 at the Inner Circle; "The Gift," currently at the Outer Circle; "Nana," a 1934 version of Zola's novel, July 3 at the Museum of American Art.