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Silence at 4:00 a.m.

The other night, lying wide awake at 4:00 a.m., I realized I heard nothing except my own breathing. The relentlessness and menu of sounds around here, makes silence rare and startling. It’s been almost 25 years since I’ve lived in an apartment, and I’ve never lived in such a city environment. This has been an adjustment.

When I first arrived in June, jetlagged and wanting to nap, it was impossible to sleep because of the almost-rhythmic machine moan that I couldn’t identify. It made me climb the walls, exasperated. What in the world?! I thought maybe someone above me had a commercial sewing machine. That sound was a constant intrusion and seemed to run all day, all night. I finally asked the building porter, and he told me it’s the water pump. …Sometime in the course of these last 5 months, I noticed that it’s about 7:00 in the morning when the water pump comes on, (and, yes, it does run ALL day but not at night).

My first floor apartment is directly above the same concrete, dungeon room that houses the water pump. This is where all the building residents sort and dump their garbage and recycling. The glass and metal door has its own, particular sound. Bottles falling on bottles, however, make a sound that is nothing unique but it sure carries into my apartment.

And the couple above me! I hear their lunch preparations and their daytime, Italian soaps on TV. I hear the rush of water through the pipes when they shower, turn on the faucet or do laundry. I hear their heated voices and the creak of what must be a spiral staircase that matches my own. The worst is the sound of her shoes. If she doesn’t have railroad spikes for heels I’d be surprised. Her footfall has an insistent, forceful impact, and when she leaves her apartment and comes pounding down the stairs, she echoes throughout the building. (They do not, however, seem to have any sort of a love life.)

There’s the chatter of people standing just outside my bedroom window having a ceaseless smoke. There are motor scooters and the electric courtyard gates opening to allow cars entrance. There’s the buzz of someone unlocking the main door. Just four buildings away is a berm-elevated train track; surprisingly, the train’s infrequent passage is a mere whir. Now and then, European sirens approach and then fade.

This is the audio backdrop within my Milanese apartment. I’m accustomed to my long-time home in Seattle in very quiet surroundings, where silence is the standard. I’m used to being awakened by birds, not water pumps and spike heels. What’s surprising to me is how I’ve adapted …and that I have! I stopped “hearing” the moaning pump and I can even nap right through it now.

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