Patrick O'Brian's Grave
A story by Jim Klein of his adventure in tracking down Patrick O'Brian's grave in Collioure.
Collioure, on the Mediterranean coast of France, near Perpignan. Patrick O'Brian has recently died and we're searching for his grave.
A Little Background
Patrick O'Brian was a secretive and private man. The villagers in Collioure, his home town, protected him and his privacy. This we knew. What we didn't know was that they would continue to protect him even in death.
O'Brian died early in the year 2000, his death, like his life, shrouded in mystery. Where was he buried? Was he cremated?
So, on a visit to the South of France we decided to explore his home town and look for his grave.
Getting to Collioure
The trip to Collioure is easy. The TGV goes from Paris to Montpelier at 300 kph in a ride so smooth you'd think you were cruising on a pond. From Montpelier, we grabbed the local rattler - a heavy weather sailer - for the final few hours down the coast. The scenery is classic Mediterranean and the weather was hot. We did our best to stay on the shady side of the car.
The train station was closing when we arrived, but a lucky rendezvous with a cab took us to a small hotel near the beach. On our way to dinner, we searched the local graveyard and found nothing.
The Stories Begin
Next day we toured the town by taxi, past the old fort, through the streets, past the gated entrance to O'Brian's home, and once again back through the graveyard. Nice town but nothing to see of POB's final resting place.
So we started asking the locals: where is POB's grave?
We got two different false leads.
First, we were told there is no grave stone (pierre cemeterie) only the guitar murals.
I took the pictures, walked back to the cab and said in very convinced (if not convincing) voice, "No." Something's wrong here. The murals were painted in 1993. No, this is not the memorial to POB.
We then asked a bartender - a friend of the driver - about POB's grave and he told the standard whopper. POB was cremated - "brulee" - and his ashes scattered at sea. No stone, he asserted.
"He's lying," I thought.
The Admiral is Not Convinced
For some reason it made me mad. I didn't know what the truth was, but I was determined find it. I wanted to check all the cemeteries in the area.
The driver was convinced I was wrong, the fair Zelda was starting to turn that attractive red color that says she's getting embarrassed to pursue this further. "Come on, there's no stone. Let's go," she said. So, I gave 'em my speech: "I traveled 5000 miles by plane, a thousand more by train, wandered through stupid French graveyards, been lied to by bartenders (who never lie to me here), and I'm not giving up. If we have to stay another day, we will. I'm not leaving till I know for sure."
The Search Continues
So, we headed off, accompanied by two very unconvinced mates shaking their heads at my stubborn attitude. I asked the driver if there was another graveyard? Cabbie says, "Yes, but back in the hills." "Overlooking the harbor," I ask?
"Let's go. I want to see it."
Climbing out of the cab at the top of the hill behind Collioure, the view is a panorama of the Med. Perfect, I think. I walk in the gate, turn to port, and three spots in, off the starboard beam there it is: POB's grave, lying next to his beloved Mary.
The picture is below. You can tell from the shadows that we found it about noon.
POB picked a nice town. But they don't tell tourists in cabs the truth.
Maybe they don't know the truth yet.
I'm not telling.
At the end the driver is taking us to the train and she wants to know if I want to go back and tweak the bartender's nose. She's eager for battle with this guy. He's lied to her too.
I tell her to do it. I've gotten what I came for.
I'm confident she roasted him good. And I'll bet she enjoyed it.