The Handsbreath Murders
The Handsbreath Murders

In the poor and remote province of Maramureş in the northern Carpathians, cut off by bad mountain roads from the rest of Romania to the south, the ancient body measures persist. Anything approaching six feet long – a plank of wood or a table – is a râf, the span of a man’s arms; a cot is a cubit, from elbow to fingertip; a ţol – about an inch – is the length of the last joint of the thumb; and a palmă is a hand’s breadth, the distance between the outstretched tips of the thumb and fingers of one hand.

Sitting in a cafe or in people’s kitchens over a cup of coffee or a glass of palincă, the same palmă gesture recurs: the fingers held out over the table, tensed, overstretched, the most that a hand can cover. The palmă isn’t much, but it isn’t nothing, something you can imagine mattering more in a moment of passion or fear than it would before or after.

The word can turn metaphorical, so that a palmă de pământ, a hand’s breadth of land, can stand for those little patches, the slim border zones between holdings, pieces of land whose ownership is uncertain, which are also sometimes called “battlegrounds”, luptă terenuri, literally “fighting lands”. Every year in Maramureş neighbours kill each other for these contested slips of territory. At times there have been 40 such violent attacks in 12 months, and week after week, much as road accidents are described in other parts of the world, the local press reports another man – always a man – killed for a hand’s breadth of land. - Adam Nicholson 

The Handsbreath Murders
The Handsbreath Murders

In the poor and remote province of Maramureş in the northern Carpathians, cut off by bad mountain roads from the rest of Romania to the south, the ancient body measures persist. Anything approaching six feet long – a plank of wood or a table – is a râf, the span of a man’s arms; a cot is a cubit, from elbow to fingertip; a ţol – about an inch – is the length of the last joint of the thumb; and a palmă is a hand’s breadth, the distance between the outstretched tips of the thumb and fingers of one hand.

Sitting in a cafe or in people’s kitchens over a cup of coffee or a glass of palincă, the same palmă gesture recurs: the fingers held out over the table, tensed, overstretched, the most that a hand can cover. The palmă isn’t much, but it isn’t nothing, something you can imagine mattering more in a moment of passion or fear than it would before or after.

The word can turn metaphorical, so that a palmă de pământ, a hand’s breadth of land, can stand for those little patches, the slim border zones between holdings, pieces of land whose ownership is uncertain, which are also sometimes called “battlegrounds”, luptă terenuri, literally “fighting lands”. Every year in Maramureş neighbours kill each other for these contested slips of territory. At times there have been 40 such violent attacks in 12 months, and week after week, much as road accidents are described in other parts of the world, the local press reports another man – always a man – killed for a hand’s breadth of land. - Adam Nicholson 

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The Handsbreath Murders
The Handsbreath Murders
IMG_6732.jpg
IMG_7768.jpg
IMG_7723.jpg
IMG_6510-2.jpg
IMG_8682.jpg
IMG_7847.jpg
IMG_8146.jpg
IMG_8043.jpg
IMG_8152.jpg
IMG_8741.jpg
IMG_8766.jpg
IMG_8832.jpg
IMG_8787.jpg
The Handsbreath Murders

In the poor and remote province of Maramureş in the northern Carpathians, cut off by bad mountain roads from the rest of Romania to the south, the ancient body measures persist. Anything approaching six feet long – a plank of wood or a table – is a râf, the span of a man’s arms; a cot is a cubit, from elbow to fingertip; a ţol – about an inch – is the length of the last joint of the thumb; and a palmă is a hand’s breadth, the distance between the outstretched tips of the thumb and fingers of one hand.

Sitting in a cafe or in people’s kitchens over a cup of coffee or a glass of palincă, the same palmă gesture recurs: the fingers held out over the table, tensed, overstretched, the most that a hand can cover. The palmă isn’t much, but it isn’t nothing, something you can imagine mattering more in a moment of passion or fear than it would before or after.

The word can turn metaphorical, so that a palmă de pământ, a hand’s breadth of land, can stand for those little patches, the slim border zones between holdings, pieces of land whose ownership is uncertain, which are also sometimes called “battlegrounds”, luptă terenuri, literally “fighting lands”. Every year in Maramureş neighbours kill each other for these contested slips of territory. At times there have been 40 such violent attacks in 12 months, and week after week, much as road accidents are described in other parts of the world, the local press reports another man – always a man – killed for a hand’s breadth of land. - Adam Nicholson 

The Handsbreath Murders

In the poor and remote province of Maramureş in the northern Carpathians, cut off by bad mountain roads from the rest of Romania to the south, the ancient body measures persist. Anything approaching six feet long – a plank of wood or a table – is a râf, the span of a man’s arms; a cot is a cubit, from elbow to fingertip; a ţol – about an inch – is the length of the last joint of the thumb; and a palmă is a hand’s breadth, the distance between the outstretched tips of the thumb and fingers of one hand.

Sitting in a cafe or in people’s kitchens over a cup of coffee or a glass of palincă, the same palmă gesture recurs: the fingers held out over the table, tensed, overstretched, the most that a hand can cover. The palmă isn’t much, but it isn’t nothing, something you can imagine mattering more in a moment of passion or fear than it would before or after.

The word can turn metaphorical, so that a palmă de pământ, a hand’s breadth of land, can stand for those little patches, the slim border zones between holdings, pieces of land whose ownership is uncertain, which are also sometimes called “battlegrounds”, luptă terenuri, literally “fighting lands”. Every year in Maramureş neighbours kill each other for these contested slips of territory. At times there have been 40 such violent attacks in 12 months, and week after week, much as road accidents are described in other parts of the world, the local press reports another man – always a man – killed for a hand’s breadth of land. - Adam Nicholson 

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