Passport: If it's red, it doesn't matter if you are the Pope: it's a strip search

JOOLS HOLLAND
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The Independent Travel
IN MY passport under occupation it says "expert". Nobody has ever queried that. It seems to be accepted as true and I get waved through.

The strangest airport experience I had was in Cancun. You hit a button as you approach customs and a red or a green light comes on. If you get red, it doesn't matter if you are the Pope or the Queen of England: it's a strip search and everything comes out of your bags. If you hit green, it doesn't matter if you're carrying guns, bullion or sacks of heroin. Unfortunately, we hit the red light. We were torn apart.

Making the TV series Beat Route, one of the most moving things I heard was Ruben Gonzalez the pianist. He was playing a really haunting series of chords. "What are those?" I asked. And he said, "When I was a little boy an old man showed me them. They're just Cuban chords." But Ruben himself was old enough to be my grandfather. I loved the fact that some of the things we caught in the series came from old people. They were some of the best things of the whole century. Ruben was kind enough to share that music with me and now I can pass it on to other people.

It was the same with an Orthodox Serbian choir in Budapest, who were all old men in their seventies and eighties. The way they voiced their harmonies didn't sound like anything modern at all. It was like something from a lost world, or from a crackly old sound-track. The local fixers were all in tears while we were listening. I asked them why they were crying and they just said that when these old men were gone there would be nobody who could do these harmonies any more. The whole art form would be dead.

The most cheerful things I came across? Seeing old people dancing like statues in Cuba cheered me up. The city of Byblos in Lebanon did as well. That's a pretty incredible place. It amused me for some reason. It's a city 7,000 years old and full of ancient ruins - but I really approved of the fact that there were no guards. You could just wander all over this ancient stuff and help yourself to bits of it, as lots of people clearly had. The Lebanese have got a great sense of humour which is something people don't perhaps realise. My favourite was Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze, who was so grumpy with his answers that he had me howling with laughter. "What do you like about Lebanon?" we asked. "Nothing," he said. "What don't you like about it?" "It's ruined."

Lebanese music was also fascinating. We found a woman who used her dance as her language. Belly dancing is the pop form of Lebanese dance but there is much more to it than that.

The most depressing place was Chicago. It was raining and freezing cold, and I had a cold and I'd forgotten my overcoat. I had the privilege to lay a headstone on the grave of Jimmy Yancey, the boogie-woogie pianist. But it was a bit depressing to think that no-one had put one there anyway. It was an unmarked grave, I suppose because he didn't have the money or something.

Jools Holland's TV series 'Beat Route' will be running on BBC2 from 26 November.

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