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Romance perfumed the air, and the middle-aged American couple, Bill and Hillary Clinton, just couldn't resist.

So there they were after midnight, strolling along the Pont des Arts, a few stolen moments together on a wooden footbridge with a view of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral.And then off to the Louvre, its glowing glass pyramid surrounded by fountains shooting skyward.

Ah, Paris!

If only that 20-car motorcade weren't idling nearby.

Hillary Clinton seemed to be thinking along those lines earlier Tuesday when she recalled the days when she and her husband could wander in Paris freely.

Complaining about being kept on "a very short leash," the first lady said: "I have a feeling we'll break out and do something to feel like we're out in Paris, even if it means going out at 2 or 3 a.m."

And that's just what they did, though it wasn't quite so late.

Leaving a gala dinner with President Francois Mitterrand, the Clintons hopped into their limousine at midnight and headed for the Seine River.

"They want to take a romantic stroll," said a presidential aide speaking on customary anonymity, refusing to confirm exactly where they were going until the last moment.

After their walk on the Pont des Arts, the Clintons rode to the Louvre for a visit to the new Richelieu Wing.

They were joined by Mitterrand, French Culture Minister Jacques Toubon, U.S. Ambassador Pamela Harriman and I.M. Pei, the Chinese-American architect of the pyramid and the museum's interior facelift.

The group of about a dozen dinner-party guests slipped away from the media lights to take their own half-hour private tour before piling back into their limousines.

The Clintons reached the ambassador's residence at 1:30 a.m. to get some shut-eye before going on to England later in the morning.