Meeting Three Ghosts in Belchite la Vieja
I meet George Orwell in Belchite la Vieja: surprising because he is dead, unsurprising because who else’s ghost would haunt this place? The Republican army took it, house by house, in the heat of an August like this one, committing atrocities for freedom. Failing. There is no water here. There was no water then. George Orwell is not thirsty. I am. I take out my iPhone and show him how to use the camera. I help him download a PDF of his own book. I play him a few tracks from a Florence and the Machine album. He likes the line about practical ghosts.
I meet Baron von Munchausen in Belchite la Vieja: he has been left behind by Terry Gilliam, who ran out of funding to bring home the star of his film. He doesn’t mind because the next set sounds like a worse place to be stuck: same amount of no money and in un lugar de La Mancha, next to a NATO bombing range, de cuyo nombre no me quiero acordar. Baron von Munchausen likes Belchite la Vieja. He tells me that he spends time with Gustavo Adolfo and rides Bucéfalo around the perimeter at night. They fit through a hole in the chain-link fence, as long as nobody in the municipality fixes it. Robin Williams is here, too, spending eternity as an Italian pun. Baron von Muchausen can’t stand it.
I meet King Alfonso I, called Batallador, in Belchite la Vieja: la very vieja, since he founded the city in the twelfth century. He has a hard time finding his way here since none of his buildings or fortifications has survived; the oldest is two-hundred years younger than he is and there’s just one of that vintage. It has no roof and is held up by a wooden armature that confuses him. During the hour from noon to one he can follow the guides leading groups of tourists struggling to take photographs in the midday sun, but for twenty-three hours of most days, plus all of Sundays and holidays, he is alone and loses his way.