Imagine being at a movie where the sound track is turned to the highest volume. Actors’ voices are screaming at you. After five minutes, you leave holding your ears and cursing the theatre for its poor judgment. Turning newspaper pages, running water in the kitchen sink, your child placing dishes and silverware on the table — all are intolerable to your ears. A baby cries or a truck screeches its brakes to a halt and the sound is excruciating. What has happened to my ears?
As you’ll have seen from my profile/Gravatar I’m a travel writer (as well as being a deafened entrepreneur). Recently, I was in Florence, Italy and not having the best time of it because of the noise pollution and my hyperacusis. My only remaining hearing is in the mid-to high range in one ear and without my hearing aid, I can still hear very loud, very high sounds. (Like anyone with Otosclerosis, my audiogram is like an upside-down version of most people’s and my hearing deteriorated from the lower frequencies first.) This, coupled with my sensitivity to certain frequencies, meant I found the traffic noise in Florence particularly difficult to bear. I did however find some quiet attractions that I thought I’d share with you here.
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’.