On a platform infamous for being contrived and famous for being fun, Instagram is home to a sprinkling of society that varies from the ridiculous to the inspirational. Lisa-Marie Proteau falls into the latter category. Unadulterated honesty about home renovations, mental health and life in Florence (she’s best known for her videos detailing Fiorentinisms) means her following is ever-growing with people magnetised by the uplifting and genuine content. Relaxing by the pool at the Sina Villa Medici hotel on via il Prato, we chat about home ownership, spreading kindness and how the IG camera helps and hinders in equal measure.
Jane Farrell: When and how did you get to Italy?
Lisa-Marie Proteau: I came here for the first time in 2009, but it was just for a few months because my mom and then my brother were both sick. After they passed away, I was 19 years old and trying to decide what to do with my life. I did a study abroad programme at the Accademia Italiana in piazza Pitti for three years and then in 2013 I went back to Canada to “try to be an adult”, but I missed Florence too much. I’m not a jealous person, but I had weird moments of extreme jealousy when I saw people online who were in Florence, so I took that as enough reason to come back!
There’s magic here, definitely. The second you’re planted in Florence, it’s very hard to ever extract yourself!
Right, so I decided I had to do something. I had bought a tiny little apartment in Canada; I sold it, got rid of everything, and in three days I was back here, bringing my dog Kiwi and two 50-pound suitcases.
You’re @almostfiorentina on Instagram and TikTok and write a blog. Did they start simultaneously or how did they come about?
Almost Fiorentina started in 2019 because I wanted to remember all of the experiences that I was having and I had just gotten my Italian citizenship through my grandfather, who is from Molise in the south. It was a year and a half of paperwork. I was going through all these absurd experiences and I really felt like I needed to write it down, not for anyone but myself. I then bought a house in Florence, and slowly it became this space to write about that. I started posting on IG, which was super awkward for me to talk into my phone, but then I just thought, whatever, do your thing!
You share about the rollercoaster of home ownership. What have been the best and worst moments so far?
I love learning new things and buying a little home that needed so much extra love seemed like a great idea at the time, but it was harder than I thought it would be and it tested my patience. Working on the house taught me about renovation, but it taught me even more about myself. I never really knew what I was doing most of the time; I think all the Instagram stories about my confusion are proof of that, but people like it when you’re open about not knowing. It’s okay to try big things on your own and figure it out as you go. Laughing at yourself is the most important skill to master when moving to Italy. My patience has gotten better, and I’ve also gotten better at being bold. I had a hard time talking to people, or rather, I had a hard time having people listen to me. A lot of people said, “Yeah, but maybe you should do it like this” and I had to say, “No! I want it like this.” In terms of worst moments, there were a lot of terrible ones.
But you manage to always present humour even when things seemed disastrous and made you stressed.
Yeah, every time that something bad would happen and someone would yell at me, I would think, I have to tell my IG friends!
I can imagine it was quite therapeutic in a way?
100%. We can either cry about this or we can laugh about it.
Is there any moment that stands out?
The worst by far was the bathroom. As they were working on it, they pulled out the toilet, and underneath there was nothing, just an empty space. They said your bathroom floor is *this* close to collapsing. The next day, I went to the house and Francesco, the builder, took me and said, “Come!” He took a rock and threw it into the hole and I could hear water splashing. I said, “What’s that, Francesco?” And he told me, “You have an unused septic tank sitting unopened with water under your floor and your floor is about to collapse.” That was not in the budget!
Have you encountered any particular reactions to your undertaking of the renovation?
Yes, definitely: are you doing this alone? You don’t have a husband to help you with this, how do you know what you’re doing? I often don’t know what I’m doing. I think just showing people that you are capable by focusing on what you want to accomplish and following through is the best thing you can do.
You shared a lovely story about someone who stopped to help when they saw you sanding a door?
Nico! Yes, Niccolò is a friend now. My partner and I were trying to manually sand down the bottom of the front door with janky sandpaper because it wasn’t closing properly. He saw us struggling and offered to help us out. It was a moment when I was fighting with the neighbours, there was a bunch of stuff going on in the house, and this angel came along and had the whole thing done in 15 mins. It was the act of kindness that I needed to lift my spirits.
Tell us about Maurizio.
Ah, Maurizio. Basically I had fallen down a YouTube hole and was watching loads of videos when I came across a woman who had planted half of a tomato, and it grew. I didn’t believe it, so I bought a tomato in Esselunga, followed the instructions, and things started happening! I named the plant after Maurizio Costanzo, the journalist, because I love him.
Have you always been inclined towards naming your plants or might it have been a Covid-coping mechanism?
Well, I also have Pamela the tree, but I had never done this before so it might have been the pandemic!
Best and worst parts of the insta-lifestyle?
On TikTok in particular I’m very extroverted, but I’m a lot more introverted in real life, so I sometimes worry people will be surprised if they come across me and realise I’m not always like that. On IG, I posted one time about feeling sad and I got so many kind messages. The internet is not always a bad place. Life is messy and I just hope I can share a little kindness and laughter and be a reminder that, even though things can be hard and uncomfortable sometimes, that doesn’t mean we have to let what happened to us stop us from living our truth and feeling it all.
Favourite place for an aperitivo?
The new Ditta Artigianale in Sant’Ambrogio
I love Caterina Bellandi. Florence is lucky to have her and I wish there were more Zia Caterinas in the world.
Favourite vintage furniture stores?
Mercatino DiTuttoDiPiù in San Donnino and Mercato Usato Firenze on via San Donato in Novoli
Favourite places in the city?
I’m all about green spaces, so Le Cascine. I love bringing my dog Kiwi there and finding all the hidden paths.
Favourite place to visit in Tuscany?
Elba Island! I go every summer and I’d love to buy a house there someday.
See The Florentine‘s IG live with Lisa-Marie Proteau of Almost Fiorentina, held on September 8, 2021.
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See @almostfiorentina on Instagram and TikTok and www.almostfiorentina.com.
We thank Fernando Pane, the new General Manager at Sina Villa Medici, for embracing our inaugural Instainterview. Born in Naples with previous managerial experience at Hotel Il Pellicano near Porto Ercole in Tuscany, Fernardo’s also a natural talent on IG @fernando_pane @sinavillamedici.