The pupils at the high school I attended were predominantly Afrikaans-speaking. Among the minority of English-speakers were a sizeable group of Portuguese-speaking children from Mozambique, a handful of Flemish-speakers from the then Belgian Congo, and even fewer Italian-speaking children who hailed from Swaziland.

We were a merry bunch who not only learned to speak Afrikaans very quickly, but easily picked up words and phrases from other languages during our daily conversations and simply out of curiosity. I once shared a study table with an Italian girl who, at my request, wrote down several phrases in my notebook whilst ostensibly helping me with my homework. The teachers on duty seemed to bristle with antennae alert for the slightest infraction during our prep times.

Of course there were no opportunities to practise the phrases – or indeed the Portuguese ones I collected – within a pucker conversational context for everyone at school spoke either Afrikaans or English or even a mixture depending on the composition of a particular group. The lists remained then as exotic curiosities in the notebook of a platteland girl who dreamed of a world beyond the mountains. I wanted more and scoured the dictionary (one could appear to be so earnest doing that during prep) for English words with an Italian connection.

That was a very long time ago and those notebooks have sadly been consigned to the detritus of my youth. The word that stood out for me then and attracted me most at the time both for its sound and its practical application was ALFRESCO. This applied to so much of what we did in the Lowveld: sporting activities were all outdoors; we watched rugby from open stands; and – best of all – when it was very hot during the holidays our family would sometimes eat our lunch on the open veranda that wrapped three quarters of the way around the farmhouse.

‘Dining alfresco’ has a much more relaxed and anticipatory ring to it than simply ‘eating outside’ – don’t you agree?


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