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The Fragile Art of the Egg

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

For the last 20 years, Sofika Zielyk has been making Ukrainian Easter eggs, known as “pysanky,” in her East Village studio, a craft she learned from her mother at age six.

Pysanky is an egg-decorating tradition that started during pagan times. The Hutsuls – mountain people of Western Ukraine – believed the fate of the world depended on the pysanka. As long as the custom continued, the world would exist.

Decorating a pysanka takes Zielyk  anywhere from one hour for a simple chicken egg to a week for an ostrich egg. Depending on the design and size, her pysanky retail for $30 to $1,500.

Zielyk’s art has been exhibited as part of the Smithsonian Resident Associates Program and at the Embassy of the Ukraine and the Russell Senate Building on Capitol Hill. Her work also is on permanent display at the Ukrainian Museum and the Embassy of the Ukraine in New York City.

When she’s not making pysanky, the native New Yorker works at the Barnard Library and tutors children in Ukrainian.

Art is Key to Locksmith’s Success

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Phil Mortillaro has let plenty of people into their apartments when they’re locked out, but he has one rule: If the locked-out person can’t produce evidence of residence – and quickly – the Greenwich Village locksmith will call the police and report a break-in.

Mortillaro, 60, has been a locksmith for 46 years, and says his skills – he claims he can easily crack almost any lock or safe – bring him customers. But his ethical standards keep them loyal. He counts plenty of jewelers and gem dealers among his regulars.

Mortillaro has shaggy gray hair, droopy blue eyes – and two ex-wives. He’s been a fixture behind the tiny counter at Greenwich Locksmiths for more than 30 years. He says school never held his attention – he dropped out before finished high school, and never attended much before then – but he’s always loved locksmithing and art.

A few years ago, he decided to combine his two loves and make a giant piece of art out of keys. He wanted to mount it on the front of Greenwich Locksmiths, to make the shop stand out as quirky and unique in the midst of the increasingly homogenized West Village. Tens of thousand of keys later, his interpretation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night causes pedestrian rubbernecking along Seventh Avenue South.

On a recent weekday afternoon, one pedestrian leaned in close for a better view. “Huh,” he said, to no one in particular, “they really are all keys, aren’t they?”

Pizza Man Offers a Slice of Life

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Sal Natale has a simple slogan: “Pizza is Good, But Love Is It.”

The pizzeria owner puts his motto into practice at Pugsley Pizza, a popular hang out for students at nearby Fordham University and for Belmont residents. Natale frequently jokes with customers and is known to play the saxophone or trumpet and sing karaoke with students in the middle of the E. 191st Street shop.

Pugsley’s is open daily for lunch, dinner and late night snacking.  On weekends and Tuesday nights (many Fordham students do not have class on Wednesday) the pizza joint is open until 4 a.m. to accommodate the late-night bar crowd.

Natale, who has been in business for more than 40 years, runs the pizzeria with his wife, Pina, son Pietro and daughter Alessandra. Though he says Pietro may eventually take over, Natale has no plans to give up his business just yet.

Workfare Cuts Could Dash Job Hopes

Monday, April 11th, 2011

For years, James Graham swept floors, stocked shelves and emptied trashcans inside city buildings in exchange for his monthly welfare check. To anyone who wasn’t sure, Graham’s badge explained that he was a workfare participant, not a real employee.

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Polish Tragedy Resounds a Year Later

Thursday, April 7th, 2011