Varnava Square is tucked into the narrow streets folded behind the Panathenaic stadium, which was carved out of white marble to host the first modern olympiad in 1896. Surrounding a cement fountain at its center, the square is lined with trees and wooden benches facing the automobile, bus, and moped traffic circulating perilously a few feet away. For more than two years in the middle 1990s, I lived a block and a half up the hill from here, in the residential area of Pangrati, which flanks the northeast side of the city's largest cemetery. A snack shop, a recently upscaled souvlaki joint, an ouzo bar, a pizza place, and a restaurant serving a rich midday meal of dishes baked in olive oil stand across the street but crowd their metal tables and plastic chairs onto Varnava Square's uneven concrete surfaces, extending, from across the road, territories invisibly mapped out. After the early morning crowd of coffee drinkers thins on a typical spring weekday, the square warms in relative quiet as the sun rises in a cloudless sky. Middleaged women push baby strollers. Seriously silent men sit and smoke, drinking syrupy coffee. Black-clad widows huddle together on the streetview benches, trading gossip.
At midday, high school kids pass through on their way home for lunch. Some hang back to loiter in the square, looking tough in their big clompy boots, denim jackets, long hair, and self-assured poise—girls and boys alike. They queue at Yianni's períptero (kiosk) to use the rotary telephone, flipping pages of the latest teen magazines as they wait. Eighteen hours a day, one can purchase newspapers, political and pornographic magazines, cartons of juice and milk, five-hundred-milliliter cans of imported beer, cigarettes, packaged cookies, ice cream bars (in summer), toilet paper, tampons,