HOT RODS PAST: While reporting on the Russian aviation industry's hopes of going global commercially (this page), Fred Weir was reminded of how things have changed since the days when Aeroflot was the single soviet airline. The Soviet-built planes such as Tupolevs and Ilyushins were technically impressive, he says. But, as elsewhere in the Soviet economy, consumers were not the first priority in aviation, and this was reflected even in how the planes were flown. "Westerners, accustomed to gentle take-offs and landings, were jolted by the way the Soviets, who had been trained as fighter pilots, brought the aircraft up and down in a steep trajectory," says Fred, recalling his travels in the 1970s. "Of course, that played havoc with the air pressure." Today, with a greater eye to pleasing customers, the pilots are easier on their ears, and their nerves, Fred says.
LOVE IN LEBANON Nick Blanford offers a personal footnote to his story today on efforts to bridge the differences among Lebanon's various communities (page 7). "Marriages between Muslims and Christians are rare," he says, "and when they do occur, it can cause problems. An old school friend of mine, Michael, ran into trouble when he returned to Lebanon from England in 1992 and fell in love with Rula." Mike is a Maronite Catholic, and Rula is a Shia Muslim whose family claim Prophet Muhammad as an ancestor. "Her extended family applied a lot of pressure once they realized the two were serious about each other and wanted to marry," Nick recalls. Mike was asked to convert to Islam and when he declined, some members of his intended's family refused to talk to her for several years. But there is a happy ending. "The family has got over it now," Nick reports. "Mike believes that Rula's family's views were based less on religious conviction and more on what the neighbors would say about her marrying a Christian."