PASSPORT: JOSEPH CONNOLLY

Parted from his luggage, the hirsute author has an intriguing encounter in the American summer
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The Independent Travel
As a writer I find that America is a good destination for interesting experiences. I remember going to Atlanta for the opening of the Olympic Games in 1996. During the summer it's the hottest and most humid place in the whole of America, and when I arrived the airport - crammed as it was with journalists from all over the world - looked more like a refugee camp.

Of course they lost my luggage and I got to the hotel at about 2am with rancid clothes and little else. My suitcase arrived at my hotel on my last day, as I was leaving for the airport. It had been to Boston and Dallas, so it is in fact far better travelled than me.

I was saved by the legendary southern American hospitality. "We would consider it a great honour if you would accompany us to the mall and let us kit you out," an Atlanta couple said to me. As a cynical Brit, of course, I thought it an elaborate hoax - until they frog-marched me to the nearest mall. I'm a bit of an anglophile when it comes to clothes but I found myself spending my first day in Saks Fifth Avenue and the like. I still wear the outfits now.

The most exciting place in America, for me, is Chicago. The airport is vast and makes Heathrow look like a branch of Woolworth's. It must always be a shock for British people to see huge policemen with Clint Eastwood- style guns sticking out of their waists. When I slid my immigration form under the glass screen this aggressive woman commanded "fill it in", and threw it back. I thought it was completed so I just returned it again and she yelled "Fill it in!" I looked and realised I hadn't ticked the box declaring "male" or "female". Considering I have a full beard I'd have thought that it would have been obvious.

When travelling in Finland it helps if you haven't eaten in about six months as the food is so bad. The food is very Russian, as is the stunning custom of downing a shot of ice-cold vodka before eating. Maybe it helps you stomach the food, but halfway through dinner you realise that you have had half a bottle. I noticed some foreigners pouring it into plant pots.

I never consciously travel to find material as I think that it's like going to find friends. It's doomed. You have "loner" tattooed on your forehead and people can smell it a mile off.

My passport doesn't have any exotic stamps in it. Unlike a lot of people I have little interest, say, in going to Australia. I think the main reason that people travel to Australia is that it's simply as far as you can go. If Australia was round about where Spain is, people wouldn't be remotely interested in it.

Joseph Connolly's new book Winter Breaks (Faber and Faber, pounds 10.99), a sequel to the current Summer Things, will be out on 4 October.

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