“Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”
When I was an angry young man, disillusioned with the world, disenchanted with my generation, disappointed by the “counterculture,” and looking for role models, William S. Burroughs’ paranoia and loathing, his antisocial appetites, his caustic, violently surreal wit, and his taste for controlled substances seemed to perfectly mirror my own aspirations.
I wanted to write. I wanted to be apart from everything I grew up with. In short, I wanted to be elsewhere. And the Tangier, the “interzone” that Burroughs described—where he’d found himself exiled, strung out, writing the pages that eventually became Naked Lunch—sounded to my naive young mind like an exotic paradise.
Tangier, of course, is part of Morocco, and however accepting it was of badly behaved expats, however “international” a city, it was always part of that nation. Traditional Arab and Berber life went on, always, around the dreamers, refugees, libertines, and romantics who flocked there. This week’s show is not about Morocco. Nor is it about Tangier precisely. It’s about the intersection between the Old World and the New, the modern and the ancient, the real world of real Moroccans and the fantasy created by generations of foreigners who came to Tangier to create, to one extent or another, an Oriental fantasy.
Unlike Burroughs, the author Paul Bowles genuinely loved Tangier. Unlike Burroughs, he stayed there, plunged deeply into Moroccan art, music, and culture. He came as close to seeing the place for what it was as any who’ve visited—not as a playland, but as an entity all its own, with fascinations far more lasting and important than hashish, majoun, and inexpensive flesh for rent.
A culture as deep as Morocco cannot be “explained” in 42 minutes of television—much less four hours. And what you see on the show is hardly a comprehensive overview or even necessarily a helpful guide to the sights. It will, I hope, give the flavor of a truly remarkable place and inspire you to look deeper. There is no place like it in the world.
A version of this field note was originally published on Bourdain’s Tumblr on May 11, 2013.