Franco File Friday: Marisa Williams

3 February 2012

For some, all it takes is one brief experience abroad to induce immediate wanderlust. For others, the exploratory urge blossoms gradually and stems from children’s stories and linguistic inclinations. For me, all it took was my first French class at age 12 followed by a week in France during high school to know I’d eventually be whisked back – the seed had been planted.  

For photographer and copywriter Marisa Williams, the French itch began with Anatole and Madeline and her mother’s travel trinkets. But it wasn’t until she was in her twenties that she discovered the Gallics via Marseille, Arles, Tarascon, Cassis and Paris. Since, she’s made France a regular adventure point along her travels. A California girl who’s forever plotting her return to France’s picture perfect coastline. Meet Marisa!

Describe what you love about France in three words.

Flair for living.
Merriam-Webster defines ‘flair’ as possessing “a skill or instinctive ability to appreciate or make good use of something” and when it comes to living well, I’d say the French—regardless of station or strata—do it better than most.
A daily zest for living and balance thrives in France in a manner that is all too hard to find in the typical workaday American life (mine included), and I admire the hell out of that.

With a passion for both Italy and France, which would you be most likely to call home?
Oh, how to choose? Can’t I have homes in both countries? I suppose if I *had* to whittle it down to one it would be France, for its diversity. Much as I love Italy and find it in many ways warmer and more soulful than across the border in La Belle France, I don’t feel quite as at home in Italia.
I’m a lifelong resident of the San Francisco Bay Area (born and raised in Berkeley) and used to a truly multicultural mix of food, people, perspectives, and culture. Italy’s big cities do have a worldly mélange, but nothing like what you find in France. Being multiracial myself, I’ve come to expect a degree of quizzical stares and curious questions or behavior that can sometimes make me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in a homogeneous setting—whether at home or abroad. But if I had to tally it, I’ve felt more out of place in Italy than in France on a landslide of occasions. So for me, it would have to be France.

Favorite spot in France? 
There are so many to relish, each a special place in its own right—the Place des Vosges, the Marais in general, the quiet corners of Versailles, this one spot at the end (or the beginning, depending from which end you start your walk) of the Promenade Planteé in the spring when the trees are full of candy-colored blooms that rain down on you in a heavenly shower and paint the ground pink as you lose yourself in a good book or surrender to that immensely pleasurable pastime of observing life in a Paris park.
But, now that I’ve finally been, the Calanques de Cassis! Sans compétition. Long on a personal list of must-see France, the Calanques outpaced my great expectations. Pick a spot, any spot along this rugged, charming terrain and bliss out. The white limestone cliffs and outcroppings dotted with fluffy, picturesque pine trees (and little else) are sublime. I took a 3-hour boat tour of the park last fall and can’t wait to return for a hike to this one patch of perfection that I scouted while at sea. I plan on packing a picnic, reading material, and my camera and spending the day from sunrise to sundown, if possible.
Something you always bring home with you?
I always try to come home with a few boxes of Ladureé macarons, but they never make it all the way. The only thing I can’t leave France without is a collection of new images. Strip me of all other souvenirs, but don’t deprive me of my pictures.
Photographs are the ultimate souvenir of France, in my book. Certainly, there’s an endless array of specialty items—available only in France—that one can purchase and tote home. But since what I really want to bring home is that uniquely French essence or quality that can’t be bottled and sold—the elusive “je ne sais quoi”—the best I can do is snap it when I see it and cherish the memories.

Most surprising experience during your travels in France?
I always expect memorable meals in France, but a local friend’s favorite Paris restaurant was a standout surprise for something other than the fantastic food. The nameless restaurant was small and nondescript, and the chef—completely alone without any wait or kitchen staff — didn’t offer a menu! Not fixed, not printed—nothing. You just took a seat, told him what you felt like eating (I was in the mood for, “something Provençale with chicken”), and he disappeared into the kitchen to whip it up. Everyone in the joint was eating something different. It was incredible. Sadly, the restaurant is now closed. But I’m still savoring the sweet memory of it!
Marisa’s photographs of the South of France and Italy always transport me into a state of perpetual summer where time halts and the only distinguishable sounds are light ocean waves and melodically chirping birds. Who wouldn’t want that feeling all year round? Visit her fine arts boutique on Etsy, peruse her work on her website and follow her on twitter: @risamaymay 

{Photos courtesy of Marisa Williams}
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