Since losing all my hearing in my left ear suddenly in 2011, I’ve suffered with bouts of sensitivity to sound. Ordinarily, I manage this by retreating to a quiet room or going to sit in the garden (if the weather’s decent). I read a book, write something, or distract myself with social media – or I sit quietly with our dog, Tilly, brushing or stroking her and generally trying to relax.
Sometimes, I take out my hearing aids for a bit, other times, I switch them to ‘Comfort in Sound’ or ‘Speech in Noise’ but, usually, I manage to ride it out without getting too distressed by it all.
An ambulance siren wails — and then another — it’s a piercing, high-pitched howl which cuts into my consciousness like a knife stabbing into my head. Slowly, the sound recedes but it is replaced by the peel of the bells of the cathedral, the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves and the rattle of cartwheels over cobbles. I’m on a city break to Florence and the noise is deafening and, at this very moment, I couldn’t have regretted this trip more.
Every Vespa’s engine noise is like a slap around the head. Each time a bus’ air brakes sound, I feel like I’ve been punched. This constant noise pollution is an assault on the senses the likes of which I have never known. It’s exhausting and terrifying in equal measures.
From what I can gather, parks and quiet spaces are hard to come by in this city: it’s not like Paris (ah, Pa-ree!) where you can readily escape to the peace and tranquillity of a public jardin at any time. This is Florence and I’m finding it pretty ‘full on’.