• She’s towering above her stand of handmade jewelry and watching shoppers from under a floppy hat, earrings dangling, gray hair pulled back.

    “Where are you from?” the hat imitates an interest when I stop to look at the necklaces. I answer this and a few more courtesy questions while she nods with understanding and smiles with her mouth, but not with her eyes. The eyebrows rise just a micrometer when I mention I’m staying in Crown Heights.

    READ MORE
  • As we settle on a bench above Santa Monica beach and unpack our Chipotle bags, a man stops by. Scrawny, like my dad, and about the same age.

    “Excuse me, could you take a photo of me? I wanted to take a photo here, and then I saw you and your girlfriend…” He glances at the heap of paper plates between us. “No, your friend. You’re sitting too far away from each other.”

    READ MORE
  • “Have you ever been to a friend’s wedding?” asks Petri, my guide for tonight. “Well, I haven’t! Fortunately, none of my friends are married yet.” He sounds genuinely relieved.

    What I thought would be a free tour of Monti with a guide I met on a travel forum looks more and more like a bad Tinder date. Petri turns out to be over 40 and, apparently, has just been through a major mid-life crisis.

    READ MORE
  • “Are you guys in love?”

    I’m amused but not surprised, really. If LA is full of weirdos, Venice is swarming with them, so there’s no reason why a total stranger wouldn’t ask two other strangers a personal question.

    Craig replies, with his good-natured mischief:

    READ MORE
  • There’s a couple across the aisle, both with the tense look of someone who hasn’t been in the city since their honeymoon in 1981. Every now and then he unfolds the map and looks at it, smiles awkwardly at no one and nothing at all, takes off his baseball hat and tries to smooth out what’s left of his hair, puts the hat back on again, takes it off again. She’s wearing a lilac top that all but blends into the seat — has camouflaged herself like a stressed chameleon. She, too, is smiling, possibly at the pug to my left, whose tongue is surprisingly long and dangles out of the corner of its mouth in a thirsty, melancholic way.

    READ MORE
  • “¿Cuánto es Cuba Libre?”

    I mentally cringe at my accent. The bartender says what sounds like a number, but I have no clue how much that is, so she has to write it on a scrap of paper.

    While she dawdles behind the bar with the gooey laziness dictated by humidity and heat, I look around.

    READ MORE