S.P.Q.R.

Four letters that bring to mind the Roman Empire and which are equally commonplace around the modern city, but how many of those familiar with the abbreviation know what it represents? Even forty years after my school years I remember Senatus Populus Que Romanus, which simply means The Senate and People of Rome, and for once is a good literal representation of my topic.  (Ironically it was a statement about democracy in a city that was ruled over by despots in various guises for centuries thereafter)

Like the UK, the Italian Parliament consists of two houses; one of which, the senate, is located in a 16th century former Medici palace; Palazzo Madama, though in these times of heightened terror threats you notice the security measures before you take in the 17th Century facade. Besides which, this post isn’t about the Senate.

Nor is it about the nearby Pantheon, arguably the most impressive Roman building in the city. Completed in the 2nd century it has been in continuous use as temple and now church, and boast what is still the world’s largest roof made from unreinforced concrete.

Between these two grand edifices is a more modest enterprise (especially on my visit when much of the exterior was boarded up).  A caffé in what is little more than a back alley of the Senate building that when opened in the 1930’s was probably very modern, but which is now very not.  But you’re not there for the decor.

You might be there for the location; for if you’re a reporter its a good spot to buttonhole a politician on his or her way for lunch, and if you’re a people watcher much of the flow of human traffic between Pantheon and that other great tourist magnet the Piazza Navona will pass this way.

But really you should be there for the coffee.  Caffé Sant’Eustachio (named after the nearby church) treats its coffee differently.  They are passionate advocates of ethical trading and source their coffee carefully in South America, predominantly Brazil, but then there is a secret to how they make it.  I should stress at this point that I’m talking espresso at this point, for though you can purchase all the usual suspects there, it is the espresso that is something special.

Clearly displayed on the walls are warnings that if you don’t want sugar you need to say so.  I don’t usually add sugar to my drinks, but espresso is the exception as I believe that the rich black intensity needs to be sweet too.  Here in Sant’Eustachio it is intrinsic to how they make it, and though the process is shielded by the positioning of the coffee machines, somehow they beat the sugar into the coffee to produce not only a delicious caffé, but one which has a thick foam at the top.  Not just a crema, but something more akin to a cappuccino foam; thick and firm enough to survive the consumption of the coffee and needing the intervention of a spoon!

A great place for people watching, and perhaps the caffé is the real reason there are so many here.

Not so fast Mr Horn

In 1932 work began on the iconic building that is Broadcasting House, home of the BBC.

BBC Broadcasting House in London
BBC Broadcasting House in London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the ship-like structure was completed two years later it was already too small, such was the pace of change in media even then.

The growth in broadcast media, may well have been expected to kill off the newspaper, yet here we are 80 years later and they still have a role in modern life, albeit that their future has finally been made precarious by online news, though new business models such as concentrating on advertising so that papers can be given away free of charge seem to have given the London Evening Standard fresh impetus.

During the same decade as the completion of Broadcasting House the BBC also began to transmit television programmes.  This might have been expected to spell the end of the fledgling radio service, but the Second World War stopped the development of TV broadcasting in its tracks and radio became the ubiquitous link to what was happening in the world (however adulterated it may have been in the national interest!).

Even as television resumed its inexorable growth when hostilities ended, radio was still part of our lives, partly due to its ability to provide a background to other activities and partly due to the development of technologies that made it portable.

The song heavily samples The Buggles' "Vi...
The Buggles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Technology brought other innovations; the music video, satellite broadcasting, digital and more.  Perhaps predicting these changes a 30-year-old from Houghton-le-Spring called Trevor Horn got together with Geoff Downes to release a single in 1979.  They called themselves The Buggles and the single was Video Killed The Radio Star.

Over 30 years later and radio is still with us, along with all of the technologies that threatened to replace it.  There are simply so many channels through which we can access media today; in our homes, in our cars, in our workplaces, using computers, using our phones, and dare I say it, using our radios.  The need to fill all of this bandwidth with material means there is more demand for media than ever.

What is more, as technologies make production within the reach of all, it is possible to broadcast to even very small and select audiences (such as through this blog).

All of this bemused a road-sweeper who I met whilst out today.  He told me how popular the area was with photographers, so I told him why I was there (though he declined to be photographed).  A little further on a group of media students were wielding a trio of tiny video cameras (which were lost on enormous tripods).  I don’t know what their objective was, but the girl who was their subject didn’t seem to be in on it!

A little further along I found my portrait for today.  Richard and John are both broadcasters for a community radio station in Sunderland called Spark FM. Run jointly by students and members of the community it broadcasts from both the centre of town and the university campus.  The guys were clearly doing some serious preparation for their next show as they both hand their heads down in the papers!

So a 10 minute stroll and you have a photo-blogger, a video production and a radio team, all to meet our insatiable appetite for media.  Well someone needs to provide the phone content that amused these three:

The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star – Single Version