Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (q.v.), p. 313–315:

“No,” he shouted at me, without even raising his head. I explained that I had been driving by the airfield and had been captivated by the peculiar and desolate beauty of the gigantic machines which lay abandoned, and slowly decomposing, in the desert.

“Fuck off. We don’t give tours,” he responded decisively.

Certain that his logic would benefit from being exposed to the deeper wellspring of my curiosity, I proceeded to deliver a soliloquy, a polished but approximate version of which it seems unfair to deprive the reader:

“My desire further to investigate these semi-ruined objects, though personal in nature, nevertheless fits into a long Western tradition of preoccupation with remnants of collapsing civilizations, which can be traced at least as far back as the eighteenth century. It was then that large numbers of ruin-gazers, Goethe among them, travelled to the Italian peninsula to admire the remains of ancient Rome, often by moonlight, deriving solace from the sight of once-grand palaces and theatres now covered in weeds and sheltering wolves and wild dogs. The Germans, always a proficient people in the coining of compound words, invented the term Ruinenlust to describe this new passion. It seems, in fact, that the more advanced a society is, the greater will be its interest in ruined things, for it will see in them a redemptively sobering reminder of the fragility of its own achievements. Ruins pose a direct challenge to our concern with power and rank, with bustle and fame. They puncture the inflated folly of our exhaustive and frenetic pursuit of wealth. It stands to reason, therefore, that a visitor to the United States, this most technologically developed of all modern societies, should take a particular interest in the flipside of the nation’s progress. The disintegrating Continental Airlines 747 visible outside of your window seems the equivalent, for myself, of what the Colosseum in Rome must have been for the young Edward Gibbon.”

There was a silence as my companion took in the eloquence, cultural range, and sheer profundity of what I had just said…. But the man was evidently disinclined by nature to pay extravagant compliments, for when he finally spoke, it was to say “Fuck off” again with a resolve which his previous riposte had perhaps lacked – to which sentiment he then added, lest there remain any ambiguity, “Get the hell out of here before I shoot you in the ass.”

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