María Kodama is a well-known figure among porteños but those not familiar with the life of Jorge Luis Borges, who died in 1986 at the age of 86, may be surprised to know that his widow is still very much alive.
A couple of weeks ago I was walking down calle Florida and just about to enter Galerías Pacifico when a woman passed me on the way out. I immediately recognized her as being María Kodama, or so I thought, since she has a very distinctive appearance. I hardly ever recognize anyone famous, always thinking that it’s someone else. I did wonder if there were other older porteña women who have adopted the distinctive Kodama hairstyle and if this was just a “look-alike”.
But, later as I was browsing in Galerías Pacifico, I saw her again. I guess she had decided to come back inside for more shopping. Actually, she appeared to be just window shopping, slowly moving among the stores. Not that I was stalking her or anything. I just kept on wondering if it was her or not. Guess I could have just approached her and asked, but I didn’t. However, after seeing the photos of her on the net, I’m positive that it was María Kodama.
María and Borges
Okay, now for those of you who have fallen behind on your biographical reading of Borges:
The daughter of a Japanese father, María Kodama is forty-five years younger than Borges. She was a student of his at the University of Buenos Aires during the 1960s and then joined a weekly class on Anglo-Saxon literature that Borges gave at the Biblioteca Nacional. Borges was blind by this point in his life and never saw Kodama with his own eyes. Yet, he became infatuated with her.
Borges, who lived most of his life as a bachelor and shared an apartment with his mother, became easily infatuated with women.
When his mother realized that her own health was failing, she arranged a marriage for her sixty-seven year old blind son, which turned out to be a disaster.
During this time, Borges was finally achieving the international fame that he had long sought. His friendship with the young María Kodama grew stronger and she eventually became his literary secretary and traveling companion on his many speaking trips abroad during the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1985, a year before his death, Borges and Kodama finally were married with a Paraguayan marriage license, which was the common way to get around the lack of divorce in Argentine law. Borges had already named Kodama as the sole heir to his estate. Obviously one can imagine the controversy at the time about an elderly, blind, famous man marrying a woman 45 years younger. But, it seems that the estate has been well managed over the years.