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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
October 28, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Positano, Hatch, and Soundtracks

The lack I've felt most keenly in Greensboro for many years is a good neighborhood Italian restaurant.

It doesn't help that we don't actually have any Italian neighborhoods.

What is a "neighborhood Italian"?

Well, it's not a pizza place -- not even a pizza place that also serves pasta.

Nor is it a cool-and-trendy restaurant. Café Pasta does a very good job of that here in Greensboro -- lots of unusual and interesting pasta dishes, wonderfully adventurous (but with some traditions, like that amazing sausage).

Instead, a neighborhood Italian restaurant specializes in comfort food. There's always plenty of olive oil and garlic, of course, but that isn't all. Everything is cooked as if by an Italian-American housewife trying to impress her native Italian mother-in-law -- the heartiest lasagnas; meatballs that are perfectly spiced (and perfectly spherical); delicate ravioli with robust fillings and sauces; fresh mozzarella, soft-centered bread, and ripe tomatoes lush with flavor.

I've found such places, here and there. Rossini's in Manhattan. Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills. I Cugini in Santa Monica.

And now, I'm happy to announce, we have one here.

Not only that, but it's been here for more than a year, and we even had friends -- Ed and Kay McVey -- tell us how good it was. I just couldn't get past the location.

I mean, when you see Payless Shoes, Target, PetSmart, and Bi-Lo all in a row on Lawndale, do you think, "I bet there's a terrific neighborhood Italian restaurant in that strip"?

Well, my prejudices were finally overcome when Park Place closed. We needed something good that was just as convenient to where our youngest daughter's dance classes are. And Ed and Kay had told us the place was great and even brought us some of their peppery olive oil to sample.

The name? Positano. And it is everything we could have asked for. Is the gnocchi as light as Rossini's? No, but it's very good -- and it's here.

The bruschetta is the best in town -- and I include in that comparison the excellent bruschetta served at Revival Grill (though I wish Revival Grill would get it that toast points work for caviar, but not for bruschetta -- everything falls off the point!).

We ate there on a Wednesday night, and were back again on Saturday just to try different items. Created by Francesco Errichiello, who also operates Elizabeth's Pizza, it is a restaurant with the noblest aspiration: to present traditional Italian cooking at its very best.

It is completely successful.

Heck, they even have Panna water.

It almost -- almost -- makes me forget that Park Place is gone ...

*

I lived in Utah back when Orrin Hatch was first elected to the Senate. He was one of the reasons I became a Democrat.

Because he's a Republican.

Let's just say we didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things. And I didn't like the way he campaigned. He always ran against Ted Kennedy, no matter who the actual candidate was whose name appeared on the ballot. "Do you want to have someone got to Washington and vote the way Kennedy tells them to?" or my favorite, "My opponent is getting all that out-of-state Kennedy money."

But I had to hand him this: He was an effective politician.

And there's never been any hint that he was behind the whispering campaigns that always dog Democratic candidates in Utah. ("You know, he isn't a good Mormon." The perfect answer to that, of course, was that each of the first two candidates he defeated was immediately called to be a mission president by the Mormon Church. They don't do that with people who "aren't good Mormons.")

Over the years, though I loathed most of the political positions that got him elected again and again, I had to admit that I began to appreciate the way he worked in Washington. He was actually an extraordinarily effective senator. Unlike the obstruction (and soon-to-retire) Senator Logjam from North Carolina, who couldn't compromise with a bucket of water if his head was on fire, Hatch quickly learned to pick his fights and find people on the opposite side of the aisle to team up with in order to get legislation passed.

Which is why even when Republicans were in the minority -- and the Democrats treated them like something they scraped off their shoe -- Hatch was able to get important legislative initiatives not only considered but passed as law.

Ironically, of course, he couldn't keep his achievements a secret from the Republican Party in Utah. Those people aren't interested in senators who govern well for America; they only want people who are rigid in their principles and therefore never get anything done at all. Martyrs, not leaders, that's what they want.

So Hatch keeps finding himself at odds with the same fanatical conservatives who long provided him with his bedrock support. If he is ever defeated in Utah, it won't be by a Democrat, assailing him from the left -- it will be in the Republican Primary, where he'll get beaten by some rigid doctrinaire conservative who thinks "good government" means giving cool speeches in general orders on C-SPAN while all the real legislators are making the decisions that matter.

So even though I have voted against Hatch every chance I could, I admire him, too, in a backward kind of way.

He has written a book: Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen Senator. The book does, at times, explain and even defend positions he has taken. For instance, he gets slammed for being "mean" to that slanderer, Anita Hill, during the Clarence Thomas crucifi -- er, pardon me, confirmation hearings. But he never asked her a single question!

Mostly, though, this book is a candid, no holds barred guide to how you go about getting elected to office and then, when you have the office, using it to govern America responsibly.

Senator Edwards might profit from reading this book. If he actually followed the lessons in it, North Carolina might have two senators instead of one plus a pretty presidential candidate.

Hatch is a good writer. This is a good book. And in this day when students come out of high school knowing less than nothing about American government, and when the press spends all its time twisting and distorting government (by, for instance, encouraging us to blame Republican presidents for recessions and deficits, while pretending that Democratic presidents and congresses have nothing to do with them), this is about as painless a civics course as you're likely to find.

*

Two recent movies with extraordinary soundtrack albums:

The soundtrack to Sweet Home Alabama is a no-brainer. It doesn't take but two songs into the movie before you're saying, I've got to have this -- it's the best collection of post-Skynyrd country music ever assembled.

But one you might easily overlook is the sountrack to I Am Sam. It's a movie I had no interest in seeing -- I hate movies that exploit handicapped people in order to give a vain actor a chance to show his chops.

The soundtrack, however, has an intriguing concept -- contemporary alternative rockers reinterpret mid- and late-period Beatles songs. And you know what? With only a couple of exceptions ("Revolution" and "Let It Be"), the new versions are at least as interesting and sometimes better than the Beatles' own renditions.

If, like me, you find that the Beatles themselves don't hold up very well 35 years later (except for just a handful of songs), this album is an eye-opener. Because you realize that once they got past the hold-your-hand, yeah-yeah-yeah phase, McCartney and Lennon -- and Harrison -- started writing real songs that still work when the right singer does the right things with them.


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