“Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”
-Hassan-i Sabbah

When I was an angry young man, disillusioned with the world, disenchanted with my generation, disappointed by the “counter-culture” and looking for role models, William S. Burroughs’ paranoia and loathing, his anti-social 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 naïve 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/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 4 hours. And what you’ll 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. It looks, smells, sounds and tastes like no other city. It is all to easy to lose oneself in the romantic ideal—more difficult to assess the place as it is: an increasingly modern port metropolis situated only a short boat ride from Europe.

It’s probably a good idea to do both: Live the dream for a bit.
But keep your eyes open.
And be careful.

As you’ll see, many visitors came to Tangier for a short vacation and remained for life. It’s that kind of place.

Originally published May 11, 2013

Airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN

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