Sunday, August 24, 2008

Heaven in New Haven

Ever felt like you died and woke up in your own kind of heaven? Well that’s what happened to me in New Haven. After close to a decade of a love-hate relationship as a Londoner, I returned to my ‘roots’ in Lagos Nigeria to ‘re-connect’ and explore options and possibilities. It was the wisest thing I have done in a long time and I could not have done it at a more perfect time. It was my first time living in Lagos as a mature adult with earning and spending power and it opened up a Lagos, and indeed a Nigeria, that I never saw in my younger years there.

I had one helluva a time, got re-baptised as a Lagosian and found a precious gem while at it. But, as I have written before in my blog, Lagos is a busy, buzzing, bustling city where something is always happening and there is a constant frenetic charge in the air. It’s hard to focus on just one thing there because competing priorities are always tugging at your financial, emotional, social and intellectual sleeves. Its also a commercial city, not an arty nor collegial one either, so it’s mostly tailored to meet the needs of the commercial private sector, not necessarily the bohemians or the intelligentsia.

Now, you can find your spots in Lagos, some which I have written about before: Terra Kulture, Roberts (on a good day) & Salamander Cafe in Abuja etc, but they are few and far between and to a degree they still haven’t quite got the art of creating an enabling social-cum-intellectual space right yet. Some of their customers can’t tell the difference between a cafe and a beer parlour and proceed to speak in high decibels, ogle and taunt female customers and guffaw loudly. Am surprised some of them don’t belch and fart for good measure. Ok, perhaps I exaggerate, but I have witnessed similar scenarios before.

After a year in Lagos, I began to feel intellectually stifled, mentally lethargic, socially claustrophobic, physically drained and emotionally spent. I could feel my cerebrum slowly corroding, I expected it to start seeping down my ears in the Lagos heat. Soon I was reacting more than I was ‘pro-acting’; lamenting more than thinking; purchasing more than producing; fixing more than creating. I felt I was becoming more of a lacklustre social commentator instead of a coruscating policy pundit. I was losing my intellectual groove and needed to get it back.

As each day went by I was burning more and more energy containing, controlling and managing my frustrations and dowsing my intellectual withdrawal symptoms with copious amounts of red wine, champagne and cognac which was always in abundance in our social circles in Lagos. However, inside, I could feel the inner me, like a little alien, starving and begging to be fed. But I prevailed to the end, earned back my Lagos street smarts and acclimatized to constant jollification as a way to make us forget our real frustrations and the conditioned aggression that makes we Nigerians bulldoze our way through obstacles in life. I love Lagos, its in my blood, but there is a part of me it still has not been able to cater for.

So the nomadic itch returned. That itch to saddle up and gallop into new terrains and adventure new worlds was gnawing under my skin. And once that happens, it never goes away until I hop on my horse, take the reins and sprint into the mysterious plains in the beckoning horizon. Call me an intellectual cowboy, a musing nomad or a pontificating troubadour but I new it was time for the journey to continue.

Usually my itch comes in five year circles ( with much travel in between of course), but this time it took only one year. Well, that makes sense ,as one year in Lagos believe me can be like five years elsewhere – each day is fraught with so much drama and happenstance! My itch also seems to be tied to my destiny and as things would have it just as I almost scratched myself thin (or rammed an Okada driver into the river with my SUV), the opportunity to do a stint at Yale and relocate to the collegial city of New Haven, Connecticut emerged.

Now last year I had considered Princeton and Colombia but was not too crazy about the ambience. Princeton was too sterile and Columbia was too busy. Strangely, I never really thought of Yale, though Harvard was a consideration. But as destiny would have, I found myself on plane heading to the quaint city called New Haven which essentially should be called Yale City!

New Haven is my ideal western city, its temperament is just as I like it. The city it variegated with intellectual stimulus and has an enabling ‘smart’ environment that caters for the sophisticated intellectual, the bohemian tree-hugger, the cross-eyed geek and mad professor all at the same time. It has the perfect blend between being a vibey place with lovely little restaurants, cafes, galleries, shops and endless books stores (oh, sorry am salivating) with a vibrant nightlife and a beautiful well kept city with greens, parks , a proud sense of history, and a calming pulse to its social beat. Everyone here seems to be purposeful and focused. Like they are always going somewhere but at a measured and calculated pace. New Haveners are not only nice and hospitable, they all seem so intelligent one can’t help feeling that one is being showered with beams of brilliance as one walks down the street.

So did I die and wake up in heaven? Well, no need to be dramatic, I came on a Virgin Atlantic flight. Nonetheless, so far so good, in New Haven, I am finding my intellectual balance and rhythm again in an environment that could be no more suited and designed to meet my taste and my needs. In a way, it is a kind of heaven, a New Haven, my kind of Heaven.

New Haven, Connecticut, August 2008

In the next few months, I will be sharing with you little tit-bits, experiences and observations about my time here in New Haven. I don’t know what this city will yield, but from the looks of it, it will be an awful lot. So, well, come with me as I start another journey as the Travelling Pundit.