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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Gets a 'Lover's Lane'

For Olga Zobova, the unveiling of the Lover's Lane project was an emotional orgasm.

   A group of eight young professionals that Zobova spearheaded has carved out a spot for lovers in Neskuchny Sad. The organizers of the Lover's Lane project raised 170,000 rubles ($6,650) to erect a monument to love -- a restored garden and a clock stopped at five minutes to six, lovers' meeting time. Fireworks, musical performances and poetry readings marked the official opening of Lover's Lane in early August, just in time for Moscow's 860th anniversary.

The group members met in the self-help training program "Step into the Future," which encouraged them to give back to their community. "The program taught us that we shouldn't be selfish," said Zobova. "We shouldn't act like the world owes us anything. We were taught to understand that if we want to get something we have to give something first."

The group didn't aspire to build something new, assuming that such a project would be too egocentric. They recognized that the city was full of beautiful places in disrepair and scouted out locations that required restoration. Zobova's eye finally settled on a garden near Neskuchny's rotunda built 60 years ago to commemorate those who died in World War II.

While the clock is symbolic of time stopping for lovers, it bears a deeper significance to Zobova. The clock embodies the central message of her self-help training: you can't put off fulfilling your desires; you have to go after what you want.

Russian nobility originally used Neskuchny Sad for country estates and gardens. This leafy riverside garden, which borders Gorky Park, has for decades offered visitors a respite from the bustle of the capital. However, like any new lover, it wasn't the garden's rich character but rather its natural beauty that attracted Zobova's group.

"It's not that I am so enamored with history," said Zobova. "But the rotunda does mean a lot to the retired veterans who still go there. We just saw that the garden was being neglected, so we decided to draw attention to it by designating it as a place for young love."

Zobova's project found ready support from park officials, but finding sponsors proved to be difficult. Cold-calling potential donors yielded only rejections. Zobova's team had to enlist the help of friends to raise the money necessary to clean up the garden.

Igor Tabakov / MT
The clock set at "lovers' meeting time."
Yelena Panfilova, a native Muscovite, persuaded her employer, Unity Staff Center, to finance the monument intended to attract young people to Neskuchny Sad. "Initially, they thought it was a frivolous project," she said. "They usually give to more serious charities like orphanages. And I understand that, but I wanted to make them see that this would also be beneficial for our community."

Love became the theme of the project because, as Zobova said, "Love is a beautiful, universal feeling that enables everyone to relate to the project."

But there is a darker side to love, which involves jealousy, rejection and misunderstandings. As such, the restorations failed to impress Maria Ivanova, a retiree who has frequented Neskuchny Sad for four decades. Ivanova said that aside from planting more flowers, the initiative had done little for the park.

"Some of them aren't even Muscovites," Ivanova said. "This garden was a place of leisure long before they got here. And now they've come and claimed it, and tried to rename it," she said. Her neighbors said the clock detracted from the garden's real monument -- the rotunda.

"I asked these young women 'why did you come to a place that was already beautiful and well taken care of?'" Gesturing toward the friends who shared her bench, Ivanova said: "We spent our whole lives building Moscow. Why come here? Moscow is built. Why don't they go to Siberia and build something new?" The elderly women explained their frustration by arguing that Zobova's group did not have a proper understanding of the garden's history and its significance to longtime residents.

"I wish they'd restored the fountains," Ivanova said, "or at least replaced these rotting gazebos, which will eventually collapse on us babushkas."

Zobova said her group did not have the funds to restore the fountains, a cost she estimated at around 4 million rubles ($160,000). The time and energy the group dedicated to the project is unsustainable, and it is uncertain whether they will continue to maintain the garden's upkeep, Zobova said.

"Our modest hope was that this project would attract attention to this beautiful spot, and that this would encourage park officials to take care of the place," Zobova said.

Ivanova may not be happy about it, but even she can't argue with the project's success in attracting a new generation of visitors.

"Everyone's always coming around here asking, 'Where's the Lover's Lane?'" Ivanova said. "I tell them well this is it, I guess. I don't know, but I think that soon everyone will forget about this Lover's Lane, and it will go back to being our Neskuchny Sad."

"Neskuchny Sad," the name rolled off her tongue, "the park where one can't be bored."