Gisberto "Bert" Bertucci, 70, originally from Pontecosi, Italy, during an interview at a Starbucks he frequents in Newport Beach on Friday. (KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / February 1, 2013)

In fact, viewed a certain way, his portraits sketched onto plastic drink lids could actually seem more like pop art — cheeky, modernized takes on Victorian cameos or commentaries on the disposable nature of consumer culture — than the work of a Renaissance master.

Still, there's something to Bertucci's work.

Behind the layer of glass, about 75 men, women and children look straight ahead or wistfully into the distance.

They have a serenity Leonardo might've admired.

Later on the bus, the windows across the aisle frame a million-dollar view of the ocean — one that drivers crawling along the highway often miss while keeping their eyes on the road.

Stepping out onto the sidewalk, Bertucci takes a loud breath of the fresh sea air. Walking toward the chess board table where he'll wait for a challenger, he waves at a shopkeeper.

It's beautiful, he says. Yet after more than three decades soaking up the California sun, there's somewhere he'd rather be.

If he could, Bertucci says, he'd live out his last remaining years in his Tuscan hometown, Pontecosi.

His Orange County routine is nice and relaxing, he says, and his work occasionally installing dry wall is better than sitting in a cubicle all day.

But Bertucci, who lost touch with his family years ago, yearns for something more.

"It would be nice to be able to come and go," he says, his ever-present smile fading. "How can you be happy just to play chess in Laguna Beach?"

For now, he may have to imagine.

Twitter: @jillcowan