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Where Normandy meets Brittany, there is a city on a hill, in the sandy land reclaimed from the Atlantic. Mont Saint Michel. I had wanted to visit it for years, imagining this cloister in a cloud, the ethereal chants of the monks of times past hanging like ghosts in the cold air, perhaps the choppy waves in the distance, lapping faintly at the shore.

But it was not so. I had failed to realize that most of the world apparently also had this vision, and I was competing with 3.5 million other tourists for my piece of the summer season.

Luckily, I had brought Sophie along (or, rather, she had brought me), and she was curious and exuberant like some small child. A bad child, even; la sale gosse, giggling and darting away and making faces. She poked her head into every cranny and wandering street. And then she made us walk around the mount, where there were fewer people and where we sank into the mud.

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