The World is Safe for Another Year

April 11, 2009

Long before the invention of Freecycle, Kijiji, Bookcrossing and Craigslist, Brooklynites created a way to pass useful but unwanted possessions along to those who desired them. The Brooklyn system is simple, direct and low-tech: just place the goods on a stoop where passersby can help themselves to your castoffs. Something left at the curb is likely to be trash, but an item sitting on the stoop in  Brooklyn is nearly always a treasure waiting to be discovered.

This morning I was hurrying through a cold, pouring rainstorm when I noticed a small cardboard carton growing soggy on a brownstone stoop. The top of the box was open and I couldn’t resist peeking inside, where, to my surprise, I saw a colorfully painted wooden egg.

I picked it up and realized that the box, more than half-filled with water, contained a typical assortment of items left out for passersby to claim — broken crockery, the top of a tea pot, a crude, clumsy clay vase, a rusted tin box. But jumbled in and among the dented and cracked castoffs I spotted more painted wooden items. It was raining too hard to look closely, so I just grabbed them all from the box and took them with me.

Hours later I got home, inspected my haul and I realized that I’d snagged six painted eggs, six egg cups painted with strawberries, and a matching tray on which to display them. A bit of googling helped me identify the jewel-toned wooden items as works of Malyovanky, a variation on Psyanka, the traditional Ukranian craft of decorating eggs. According to Wikipedia, residents of the Carpathian Mountains believe that the fate of the entire world depends upon such eggs.

As long as the egg decorating custom continues, the world will exist. If, for any reason, this custom is abandoned, evil––in the shape of a horrible serpent who is forever chained to a cliff–– will overrun the world. Each year the serpent sends out his minions to see how many pysanky have been created. If the number is low the serpent’s chains are loosened and he is free to wander the earth causing havoc and destruction. If, on the other hand, the number of pysanky has increased, the chains are tightened and good triumphs over evil for yet another year.

And so it was that, the day before Easter, I participated in a serendipitous Easter egg hunt, and — by saving the eggs from a watery fate — have helped ensure that the world will continue to exist for another year. Whew.

Black egg

Red egg

Blue egg

Tan egg

Green egg

Tray painted with strawberries

Strawberry painted egg cup

The full set.

Wikipedia: Pysanky and Malyovanky
Suma Store: Pysanka

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