• 2021.07.06
  • San Esteban Monastery, Salamanca
When the re-extension of the state of emergency was finally lifted, I decided to take a long-awaited trip inside Spain, but it wasn't long before I discovered, on June 5, that "the Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) vaccine has one fifth of the ability to produce neutralizing antibodies” against the Indian COVID variant, which is becoming the predominant variant nowadays. It was information that I can’t allow to pass without comment.

“Those fully vaccinated with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are likely to produce five times lower levels of neutralising antibodies against the Delta COVID variant (dominant in India) finds a study published in the Lancet.” (https://fit.thequint.com/coronavirus/vaccine-treatment/shorter-vaccine-dosage-gap-needed-for-delta-variant-lancet-study)

Which means that even though I have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, in the approach to the summer vacation season, there is a great possibility that there would be a repeat of this scenario: EU Green Passes issued → People from all over the European Union looking to party travel to the resorts in Spain → A fourth wave arrives with spread of the Delta variant → Pressure on medical care systems→ State of emergency declared again → Requirement to stay at home → No travel across provincial boundaries. We therefore decided to rush to a nearby place before that could happen.

It would be impossible for us to go back home to Japan for a visit in the summer like we used to, unless we were included in the special entry quota for Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games officials, because we would be blocked by the Japanese government's strict, watertight immigration control measures. Even if you have a Green Pass (vaccine passport) valid within the EU, it would be difficult to get approval, in light of Japan’s strict standards, which provide a world-class model, even if you have an EU certificate, whose anti-COVID measures are said to be lagging behind Japan’s.

EU Digital Green Pass

Our destination this time was Salamanca, a university city about 220 km northwest of Madrid. Salamanca is home to the University of Salamanca, which was established in 1218 and boasts a history that rivals the traditional universities that come to mind when you hear the names of cities like Oxford, Heidelberg, Coimbra, or Bologna. In other words, because it is also a place where European intelligence and knowledge have been gathered from the medieval to the modern times, it is also called the think tank of the Spanish Empire. Cervantes, Don Quixote’s creator, called Salamanca "madre de las ciencias” (“the mother of the sciences”).*
* Tía fingida (The Pretended Aunt), from The Exemplary Novels

A fried chicken shop too boasts Salamanca

The Castilla region, where Salamanca is located, is also the birthplace of the Castilian language, commonly known as Spanish, so it is said that the city retains the standard form of the language and attracts students from all over the world to learn Spanish. Salamanca has also been chosen as one of the places where Spanish majors go for training after joining Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In fact, I myself spent two summers in Salamanca about 30 years ago to study Spanish. I still remember fondly spending those tough days as a student with my head buried in the books within earshot of storks clattering at the height of their collective child rearing on the roof of the New and Old Cathedrals of Salamanca, which are next to the student dormitory where I was staying.

This time, we stayed at accommodation built on the site of the orchard of the Franciscan Las Claras Convent in the historic district, close to that dormitory. Right under our noses was the Dominican San Esteban Monastery.

San Esteban Monastery and Church

This monastery re-introduced me to the storks. In Spanish, they are called cigüeña blanca, and in Japanese, Yoroppa konotori (“European stork”) or shubashiko (“white stork”). It seems there are some storks at Tori-no-Rakuen ("Bird Paradise") at Tennoji Zoo in Osaka, and although the zoo is temporarily closed at the moment, video of the animals is being live streamed.

Storks (red circle) lodging on the roofs of the monastery and church, and a flock of vencejo, European swifts (blue circle), which had recently arrived after flying more than 11,000 km from South Africa and were flying about in the area.
That is almost the same distance as Osaka to Salamanca.

In this monastery stands a chapel (with tomb) where lies the coffin of the 3rd Duke of Alba, the family I wrote about in my recent article, so I paid the chapel a visit. In that I article I used the title “Duke of Alba”, but in fact he was a Grand Duke, which is higher than a Duke and the highest below the King. No wonder he could order his portrait by Titian, the painter to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

The chapel (with tomb) of the 3rd Duke of Alba in the monastery church

The 3rd Duke of Alba, Titian, (Collection of the Alba family, Liria Palace, Madrid)

Cardinal Juan Álvarez de Toledo, the older brother of the Grand Duke of Alba commenced construction of the present-day monastery in 1524, after demolishing the church and monastery established by the Dominican order in the mid-13th century. Although it doesn’t seem to be a church where the family’s ancestors are all buried, it is a monastery that is deeply connected with the Alba family.

Christopher Columbus, who received the backing of Diego de Deza, abbot of the monastery and professor of theology at the University of Salamanca, also stayed at the old monastery. He probably sought scientific evidence from a subcommittee or advisory committee of experts in navigation, astronomy, mathematics, and so on in Salamanca, a treasure trove of knowledge, so as to gain approval from the Catholic Monarchs of Spain for his grand Indies project to travel west to the golden island of “Zipangu.”

Twenty-one of Columbus' letters are preserved in the library of the Liria Palace, the residence of the Alba family in Madrid, which I visited the other day, and I felt the deep relationship between the Alba family, the monastery of San Esteban, Columbus, and Salamanca come into view.

Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, said to be the most beautiful square in Spain

A relief of Columbus on a pillar in Plaza Mayor


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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