Giulio: The man behind the vest

Michael Hall

October 22, 2019

BOLOGNA, Italy — Pity the poor soul who comes to SAIS by the name of Giulio; that unlucky person is destined to be overshadowed by Giulio, the bar-owner, bracelet-connoisseur and musician that all SAIS Bologna students come to know and appreciate. His scarves iconic and Friday afternoon pours delightfully generous, Giulio is a character who contributes to the “Bologna experience” of many — maybe even too much. The SAIS Observer had the wonderful opportunity to interview our beloved barista. As one may expect, there wasn’t a dull moment.

Giulio, born and raised in Bologna but Calabrese at heart, has been slinging coffee at SAIS for well over a decade now since assuming the role of owner in 2005. Although Giulio had an academic passion for philosophy which he explored at the University of Bologna (UNIBO), he has always cherished the beauty of food services and the accompanying human interaction. Nonetheless, living outside the city walls while studying at UNIBO, Giulio found himself searching for a more geographically convenient job. Enter SAIS: a school attracting diverse, sociable students. It seemed the stars had aligned for our favorite barista-but-could-pass-for-magician Italian.

Giulio was quick to share that this was, and has remained overwhelmingly his favorite part of the job. Students have changed, he explained, but in a positive way, gravitating away from strictly business and finance toward harboring a broader set of interests. It is somewhat ironic that over the similar course of time, Giulio has perceived the construction of a thicker wall around the school. Prompted into discussion by a question regarding what it is like being many students’ first or primary foreigner-Italian interaction, his mustache-adorned smile slowly inverted into an unpleasant symbol of distaste.

Giulio began recounting years past with the glossy tinge of nostalgia, when the building’s mechanic blockade — relishing in the panic of students two-minutes late sans ID card in hand — instead was a revolving door through which both SAIS and UNIBO students passed. The café’s clientele was even more diverse and, perhaps for Giulio, lent a sense of legitimacy to his business. Now, as regulations have made entering the building increasingly difficult for anyone unaffiliated with SAIS, Giulio’s has increasingly come to resemble the cafeteria-style, contracted restaurants often found at universities in the United States. [Editor’s note: Wait until the Bolognesi see the Grab-n-Go that passes for food service at SAIS DC. Refrigerated, packaged hot dogs and hamburgers, anyone?] 

This isn’t to ignore the secluded market that evolves from such protection. Rather, the conversation steered more toward what it meant for students’ experiences. For the less extroverted, some now find their interaction with the outside world—Via Beniamino Andreatta, 4, and beyond — restricted to the ins-and-outs of the drab brick-and-mortar some students tragically have begun calling “home.” This isn’t to construe Giulio’s feelings as unappreciative or indignant; the transition Giulio has seen, and the ardent feelings it inspires in him, instead speak to the immense care all SAIS faculty and staff have for us fortunate students. Some may see our year as a cultural immersion — and others as a relocation of U.S.-based practices to Bologna. Offer a glass — or better yet a bottle — of wine to the man behind the perennial vest and you’ll leave more motivated than ever to muster up the courage to give more than the ambivalent ciao to that cute cashier.