Sometime during the second cycle of years we were crossing Spain on a train, traveling from Granada to Madrid and traversing La Mancha, which I had dreamed of seeing, at sunset.
The Spanish really did seem to enjoy Americans at that time and, if you at least tried to speak the language when transacting business (which in our case involved the usual tourist pattern of hotel/restaurant/transit/store purchases), you were guaranteed friendly and respectful treatment. An extra benefit, for young people especially, was how far your dollars went. We weren’t making big salaries, but we were returning to the Ritz in Madrid, a splendid place, after staying at the exquisite Al Hambra Palace. I vividly recall how during the previous evening we had our one and only encounter with gypsies, who lurked in shadows to steal tips from restaurant tables. The waiters’ attitude of disgusted indifference (they seemed to regard them as kitchen pests on the order of insects or mice and told us to ignore the darting, scurrying and occasional striking out with brooms) is something I’ve always remembered.
Early in our journey two young men joined us in our compartment and we switched our seating arrangement so that they could sit together on the facing bench. It seemed natural and polite to join them in conversation and they were very pleasant -- work friends from Italy traveling together who spoke pretty good English and clearly wanted to practice. Inevitably, they asked, “so how do you like Spain and the Spanish people?”
It was easy to answer positively. This was our third trip to Spain and we had fallen in love with the country, its food, language, art, street scenes, etc. We even had a friend there, who lived on the beautiful island of Mallorca. Our companions definitively approved our opinion, "certifying" it by seriously pronouncing that while Italians were the best people in Europe, Spaniards were definitely the second best, and Italians also liked them very much.
For Enrico Pagani