". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Midwest -- Part 2, In Which My Personal History Shows Up

        . . .  Wednesday began with yet another 6 AM call – off to Madison.

 During the drive I read the entirety of the chapter that follows the Chattanooga campaign, which describes Grant receiving the revived rank of lieutenant general,previously held only by General Washington. This chapter further describes Grant's reorganization of the armies as General in Chief, most particularly the Army of the Potomac, which he took over personally in the field.  This in preparation for the Union campaigns of 1864, which Grant will initiate for himself as battlefield commander with what we now call the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania -- the following chapters, which both of us have been too spent to read yet. Maybe we'll get started tonight after family dinner, etc.

While both of us have done a great deal of study and research into what made slavery, secession, the War of Rebellion, the politics and economics, etc., neither of us have been much interested in the armies and the battles of the war.  For one thing, we agree neither of us had enough information yet to think productively about the military aspects of the war until quite recently. Living on the Chesapeake, and getting deep into the War of 1812 began the process of us getting some comprehension to comprehend battles and wars in the first place.  Though we think this process for us actually began with the Slave Revolution of Haiti, New Orleans and Napoleon and slavery, to which our War of 1812 is deeply connected.


We arrived at the Hampton Inn in Madison barely two hours before the 6 PM University of Wisconsin’s gig, and to which gig, due to Madison’s rush hour traffic, we arrived a bit late.  Entering the amphitheater, checking the microphones  I got a huge surprise. A youngish woman puts herself in front of me and stands there.

Stands there.


For . . .  .


It's another niece, the daughter of my dad's second wife's second daughter, mother of four children and always a go-getter, and always determined to make this weird,  poorly blended family accept her as a part of it. I blame my mother for her condition. Mom had a lot of the raising of her, did not treat her well, or respect her -- visiting the sins and character of this niece's mother -- who HATED my mother, and my mother hated her, and they were at WAR -- upon the daughter-child (Mom did not treat the other children of this step-daughter that way, raising them also -- but they were -- BOYS) as only my mother could.

How this niece found out where to go, and why she came -- this woman ought to be an historian herself, or even a private detective. Her tenacity and determination know no bounds.

It's a long and complicated story, but she may be the one person in this family who is actually and actively proud that we are her "aunt and uncle."

This, in combination with being back in Madison, where I was at school for nearly three years, is a place so far distant yet so formative in my own past, in which nothing is the same, all changed, re-located, disappeared, re-named, and become an enormous corporate campus - shopping mall -- stirred up all kinds of feelings and memories I'd rather have stayed drowned at the bottom of my psyche.

And so so we did the gig, and so exhausted that we did our best, but we weren't performing at our best. This didn't seem to matter to this audience of professors and scholars of African, Caribbean and African American studies and history.  This makes for a very different group – and even presentation by us – than a bookstore filled with predominately African American, well-educated activists, who, moreover, mostly have known each other for years.  It went well, and, even, unusually at an academic venue, where we get paid, some books were bought by the attendees.  The best part though, was that both niece and her friend were gob -smacked.  This was all brand new to them, and they found it fascinating.  It's pretty interesting that this niece is the only person in my entire family now has been present at something we do . . .  she's proud of that.

As the dept. chair who brought us to the U of Wisconsin was having us to his home for a sit-down, home-made dinner with other guests, it wasn’t right to invite two strangers along.  I felt badly sending off my niece (a very different kind of niece than the one whose wedding has made all this driving happen in the first place) and her friend, back to their own conference on nutrition, Menomonee Falls, that they’d driven over from North Dakota to attend. Which is why niece was able to come to Madison – but that was a two-hour drive for them.  As stated, she was determined to see us.  Maybe . . . this was a way in which to insert herself into the Other Niece’s wedding, to which she hadn’t been invited, though her grandmother (Dad’s second wife) and some of her other aunts and cousins had been?  I could tell she felt hurt by this.  Yah.  Family dysfunction already present.


By Madison I was physically wrecked from far too many hours of driving, as well as exhausted from far too little sleep.  So when we arrived in Rockford yesterday afternoon, there wasn’t much left. Thankfully it is a short drive from Madison to Rockford. Nor had we eaten.

We ate at a Golden Corral! Blessed the city that has Golden Corral. Their salad greens and other choices to make salads from are always so fresh and there's such a variety. We love the Golden Corral, even when, like me tonight, there's not much appetite there. Something will always appeal that is right for how one's feeling.

I love how now every town and small city can have these available at a moment's notice for even the most casual traveler. It makes my traveling so much more interesting and fun. The whole country is filled with small cities like this, all of whom existed for a good  reason -- and have managed to continue existing for good reasons. As soon as one looks at their past one gets sucked in -- it's all so fascinating, and really tells the story of the U.S. from so many angles.

Rock River is what gives Rockford its name. It was on the original portage route for furs etc. to the Ohio, presumably, on the way to the Mississippi. Then, later, with the Erie Canal to the canal a town was founded, and with Chicago, the goods and commodities could go directly to the railways -- instead of as in the fur days, down to New Orleans. "Our people," the scands, didn't show up until after the Civil War.

After we ate, we went down to the Historic River District that every town has now, and, like every town now, it was filled with Friday night fun-seekers. So we walked about and looked at the re-purposed into brew pubs old architecture and so on. Enjoyed the big sky, but not the emerging mosquitoes. Plus not feeling very well and being exhausted, we came back here.  I was such a wreck, I canceled relatives and went to bed at 9 PM, slept until after 8 AM (DCST).

Gotta say – the weather’s beautiful – perfect for a wedding weekend.  I have even painted my nails in honor of it all.

The Midwest - Part 1

     . . . Here we are, in an Hampton Inn room in Illinois on a Saturday morning, listening to a draft of the music Donald Harrison is composing for the Symphony Space Slave Coast performance.

A friend hand-delivered the script to him at a jazz venue in NYC two nights ago. This morning one of those internet 'drop box' things for which Ned has accounts had some music in it already.

We're reading from the script, not the book, on this leg of Slave Coast tour -- and saying so before we begin. So this is particularly hair-raising (in a good way) for audiences interested in these matters. I'm presuming the news of this Symphony Space thing with Donald Harrison as music composer will be particularly of interest to the Chicago audience.

We’re currently in family and wedding mode, which means, since we’re wedding guests, not of the wedding party, we are getting some necessary r&r.  The days prior, and even before leaving, were grueling, and they took their toll, even with all the incredible, positive energy – feedback we have received.


Arose at 6 AM on Tuesday; headed out finally for the Holland Tunnel about 11 AM. (Among errands that had to be run before leaving included the copy shop to make copies of the Slave Coast script for Donald.)

Delaware Water Gap Scenic Overlook

Once we got out of Jersey City and Chris Christie’s gangland fiefdom, the drive got enjoyble. The Pennsylvania landscape of beautiful, for one thing.  For another, when one knows a lot about our national history and literature, even on interstates and turnpikes just the names on the signage bring up hosts of interesting subjects to think and talk about -- the past ghosts along with us in that car. Pennsylvania – colonial history, the War of Independence, the War of the Rebellion, coal, politics, art, religion.  Among other eras of U.S.history, Michigan's part of significant War of 1812 territory on the other geographical side of the war as conducted on the Chesapeake and in the South.

As well on that 13-hour drive I read aloud the entire Chattanooga campaign chapter over a couple - three hundred miles, from  our current read-aloud book, Grant (2001) by Jean Edward Smith, the John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University (Toronto).  This stuff is exciting, since the author concentrates on the armies and the military campaigns, not the people of the places that are affected and suffer. Unfortunately though Smith does quote without question from Shelby Foote.

Foote's popular history of the War of Rebellion, The Civil War: A Narrative, reads like a novel.  This is because he is a novelist, not an historian. Thus he makes shit up, yet the publisher still catergorizes it as history. Why is this accepted?

Like the novelist Foote was, he has these historical figures say what he thinks they should say – or wants them to say. Those of us who know more about these figures know Foote is making up these words, but those who don't read deeply in primary historical sources take Foote’s books as gospel truth. Thus, at the run-up to the Chattanooga campaign Grant says he doesn't care about slavery and is anti-emancipation, for instance -- while later, Lee states he's anti-slavery and pro-emancipation. These men speak these words ONLY because Foote made them speak these words.  Foote should never be called an historian, and should never be used as a citation. He's a southern story-teller which is a very different thing.


Before these mansions were built in 1891, the land was owned by a man who experimented with developing better seeds for vegetables and fruits.

At 11 PM we gratefully got into our rooms (they gave us a suite) in The Inn on Ferry Street, situated in a set of the historical Detroit (founded 1701 out of the fur trade) homes erected by Gilded Age Michigan lumber barons, land developers, shipping tycoons, etc.  As an example, think of the Grand Rapids, MI, lumber millionaire in Gene Stratton Porter’s novel Freckles (1904), and Freckles himself in Girl of the Limberlost, busy denuding Indiana’s Limberlost Swamp of every valuable tree his crew can find, and destroying the rest of the swamp environment, trees and creatures as collateral damage – not that the novels mention this aspect. 

Lights out by 11:30. Had another 6 AM call on Wednesday to be breakfasted, showered and caffinated before arriving for the radio station call of 8:45 AM for the 9 AM start of Stephen Henderson's talk and call-in show. It can be heard here.

The radio program was followed by a long tour of Detroit, past and present, by a deeply knowledgable resident, who happened to be instrumental in getting us to Detroit. He even wrote another piece on Slave Coast for Alternet that went up the same day.  I took lots of notes.

He concluded the tour by taking us to his and wife's home for lunch. The other lunch guests made for an excellent mix of company – male, female, black white – in about equal numbers, everyone local, and the artists, local yes, but with national and international careers. The hosts had some Slave Coasts available for sale for the convenience of the guests who weren't able to come to the bookstore for the evening event. These people, professional activists and organizers for years, think of everything.

These kinds of gatherings make one believe that history really matters, and not just to ones self. several of Detroit's local heads, including the director of the African American Museum.  They did all this despite leaving town themselves very early the next morning. And these were only two of the wonderful people who did so much to make our Detroit visit such a success.

The call for the event at the Source, a community bookstore, was .for 6 PM.  Standing room only, many atending who had heard us on Stephen's show that morning, many of whom have known each other for many years, and who have been working together to not only save Detroit's African American and less wealthy communities from the Disaster Capitalists grabbing as much real estate as they can, but since what is called locally, the Rebellion of 1967.  Which bevels nicely into our argument, that from the perspective of African American history, the Was of Independence, the War of 1812, and particularly the War of Rebellion, whatever else they might have been, were also the great African American rebellions against the state sanctioned legal and economic systems created to keep them in a state of being 'merely' resource extraction.

After the reading, there was a long, interesting and productive q&a, which means we learned a great deal -- from people who have wisdom to impart.  We talked with people and signed books until the owner shooed everyone out about 10 PM.  Any place that had food that wasn’t covered with (phony) cheese, mayo, bacon, etc. was closed, as is the general thing in most places.  We wasted time looking for one before in desperation going into a local brew put and having burgers from which we tried to scrape off the other stuff, and salads, that could not be served with dressing and condiments on the side, and thus drowned in more fat and cholesterol, so not worth eating.

Back to the Inn and the showers -- another long drive ahead of us.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Off Off & Away

Off in another hour for 10 days in the Midwest,  Currently listening to the Detroit radio station where we'll be talking for an hour tomorrow morning.

The Midwest, where I've not been in years.

Normally we are in the yellow and red part, with occasional jaunts into the blue.

Stripped down itinerary, so far


9:00-10:00 a.m.: Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Lunch with Frank Joyce 313 510 8941

6:00 p.m.: Source Booksellers, 4240 Cass Ave.


5:30 p.m.: Event: L140 Elvehjem at U Wis, 5:30pm-6:30pm

09/16-19 /2016

Wedding + Family

We will be visiting historic spots in our own downtime, including the house the good people of Galena, IL built for General Grant and Mrs. Grant.

The house Galena built for General and Mrs. Grant after the war.


7:30: event, Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.)

Event listing here.


Time? location? event at IUPUC

afterward: leave Columbus, IN for Columbus, OH travel time: 3 hrs.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day

  . . . . We've finished the American Slave Coast at Symphony Space script.

El V's getting the script copied now, as I make dinner.   I also did all that Cuban sweat-soaked laundry.

Labor Day. We labor.

Fortunately, in a sense, storm Hermine swerved away from us.  Unfortunately this means no rain, rain which we desperately need.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Start The Revolution Without Me (1970) -- RIP Gene Wilder

    Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) is near the very top of my list of favorite films.

It's so close to the top because it may be the funniest film ever made, and that's because it starred Gene Wilder, who is always known for being one of the greatest actors who played comic roles, and Donald Sutherland, one of my all time, all around favorite actors, who is not known primarily for his talent in comic roles.

Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland play two sets of identical twins, switched at birth, to be raised with the twin that isn't their twin. This happens in the years prior to the French Revolution.  It gets more zany and silly than that, continuously.

Dialog sharp and crisp, precise and perfect delivery timing.  And silly, silly, silly.  I laughed my silly head off every time I watched it.  Even the time I watched it with a guy who had no idea of who Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were, what the French Revolution was, and probably what France is or was either.  So the film provided the additional benefit, beside laughing laughing laughing, of showing me that this fellow and I need never go out with each again. Thereby this fellow was saved a great deal of time and future misery, because really there could be no future for two people, one of whom cared a great deal about the French Revolution and the other who didn't know what the word history meant.  :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Watching Reading Wednesday: The Affair - Season 2 No Spoilers

The Affair is a television series from Showtime that mimics perfectly on screen the dynamics of a certain kind of middle-brow literary fiction.  Beyond the narrative and plot, the dynamics include the milieus that publishers, consumers and creators of such fictions inhabit, or presumably inhabit, or fantasize they inhabit -- or even aspire to inhabit as their entitlement as publishers, consumers and creators of such fiction.  This latter presumably is particularly the case if the writer is male (despite, as it seems, according to sales, the buyers of such novels are predominately female though the "critics" of these novels remain predominately male).

I watched the first season last summer, a year ago on dvd with ice packs held to my jaw, during three hot evenings. This was in the wake of an infected mess under the crown of a long ago root canal, which had so damaged the bone of the gum that an emergency bone graft had been done along with the emergency extraction of the final pieces of tooth to which the crown had been anchored.  Antibiotics, pain meds, ice packs (to keep off swelling and bruising -- this worked!).  The day after the extraction el V had to leave for Cuba.  In this context there was nothing that would have worked so well to distract myself from myself, particularly as much of the location of much of The Affair took place by swimming pools and the ocean of Long Island.

 Lots of beautiful cool water to look at during the heat of those August nights. As appropriate for this literary work, water imagery is all over this series, starting with the opening credit sequence, accompanied by music, composed and performed, lyrics written by Fiona Apple.

It's the same this August -- warm, steamy evenings, and el V's in Cuba, but -- no dentistry.  Still, this summer is also different. At this time last year we'd just turned in the final ms. for The American Slave Coast to ye Editor, but this August we're working on the script for the stage version, with music by Donald Harrison, at Symphony Space.

 Due to last summer's antibiotics and pain meds,  I couldn't drink, and due to the wound, I couldn't eat many things either. This summer I can drink chilled Verdejo, from Spain's Rueda region, which goes so well with oil cured black olives, cantaloupe, Jamón serrano and Manchego cheese -- with crusty bread and a Calabash tomato from  Chiapas.  I couldn't have any of these last year.


Last summer The Affair seemed to me slickly produced superficial "quality" tv,  centered on families and communities who generally have more of everything than they need, and who aren't the enthralling people they believe themselves to be.  It demonstrated some pretension to edgy narrative craft, in which plot lines and events arrive for the viewer in fractured chronological sequence and crucial information is withheld.  This latter has become technique of choice it seems in the last few seasons of television story-telling.  But too often, as with, say, Bloodline, there is no organic need to put off telling the audience essential facts. When these less than compelling facts arrive, the viewer makes a moue -- that's all ya got? -- since the surprising info falls flat and does nor enhanced or expand of anything that's gone before.  This willful withholding drags on the pacing and prolongs a season, which would have been much better as six episodes instead of 10 or 13.   

Noah Solloway, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, outside his wife's brownstone, before his second novel, Descent, becomes a sensation.
The Affair is presented through the perceptions of a variety of characters who rotate around the planet figure of Noah Solloway, played by Dominic West, who is -- a novelist! Most of the episodes are divided into two parts.

Alison, in a state of misery.  Perhaps.  She's supposed to be mysterious to everyone, mot of all to herself. But who knows? Since she's so often given to us through the eyes of the men in her life, particularly by a man who is a novelist basing what will be a blockbuster on his interpretation of Alison, and ultimately presented by the writers of a television series, who manipulate her feelings and maneuver her actions for the purposes of the series.
The initial episodes' parts are divided between Noah and Alison Lockhart, played by Ruth Wilson, the married woman with whom he falls into an overwhelming, passionate sexual affair. This life disrupting adultery happens while on the annual family summer vacation at his father-in-law's luxurious Long Island estate, the summer in which Noah is hoping to finish his second novel.  Alison, like her husband, Cole, and his family, are native for generations to Montauk and Long Island.  They are not fond of summer people, but they have no choice but to serve them for their livelihood.

Noah's father-in-law, Bruce Butler, played by John Doman, who like West, is recognizable from his role in David Simon's The Wire, is also a  novelist.  Unlike Solloway, Bruce's writing is highly successful and richly rewarded.  Films are based on his novels, and he writes the screen plays too, which is why he was able to buy this Long Island luxury (since it seems his wife's WASP family are currently down on their financial luck) and hang out with other successful and vulgar figures who summer in Montauk.

Helen Solloway, crossing my hangout, Washington Square Park, looking for a bench on which she can vape some weed.

Noah's wife Helen, played brilliantly by Maura Tierney, is dependent on her father's money, while her mother, still controls her life to a degree that Helen has not yet understood, starting with paying for her grandchildren's private school education (while Noah teaches in public school).

Helen's perfectly horrid mother, Margaret Butler, played magnificently by Kathleen Chalfant.

Helen and Noah have 4 children.  Noah teaches English in a public high school in Brooklyn; Helen has a boutique new-agey store stuffed with useless stuff of interest only to Precious Mummies with husbands who run hedge funds, so can afford to spend their days in spin classes, yoga studios, the hair stylist, while drinking wine, shopping and trundling their very special children from one place to another.  The store does not make a profit, but Helen has a (very big) trust fund, set up -- I think -- by her wealthy grandfather.  Her wealthy father is a self-made man who married into a WASP family.  

So here we are, located in a classic cesspool of seething class conflict and family dysfunction -- opportunity for lots and lots and LOTS of drama, which there is, and emoting about it, which the characters do. Nevertheless season 1 involved me enough that I requested the second one when it became available from Netflix.

The first season ended on a cliffhanger, with no conclusion to the primary plot line, and leaving puzzles of what happened, and to whom? not to mention who did it and why.  Ah, this viewer said to herself, "Not literary fiction at all, but serial fiction, long the most popular form of narrative."  Just like, as it turns out, we will perceive, with Solloway's own novel by the end of season 2, despite having been declared the bravest and most interesting voice to appear on the literary scene since Philip Roth. I get a kick out of trying to figure out if the writers are being sly and satirical or if they themselves believe that this is what "literature" is.

At first diving again into the roiling waters of The Affair again seemed too daunting.  But once I dipped into season 2, I went happily all the way to the bottom of the pool.  A great deal of this is because Helen Solloway gets to have her own parts in almost all the episodes.  Tierney nails and dominates every scene she is in. 

A scene in which Helen, already stoned, is drinking her wine, entirely miserable and angry after a terrible time in the divorce mediator's office, trying to get undressed, while karaoking along to "I Changed the Locks" is one of the most brilliant things ever put on television. Not to mention the courage of Tierny to do it, the way she does it.  Her Helen is the most interesting person in the series. 

Noah's the writer, so most of the time he's feckless and dull, while demonstrating his extreme selfishness, which is ruled by his dick, and petty egotism.  Alison's neither deep nor complicated -- she's too much like an opera's tragedy queen, or least that was how she came across to me in the first season, and I've probably not gone beyond that first impression.

However, her ex-husband, Cole, gets his own parts in season 2 as well, and he gets more interesting all the time. There is a new character, Louisa, brought by her parents from Ecuador when she was 11, who is anything but tragic, and who adds a great deal. Her insertion into the narrative is organic and plausible.

The other reason I fell happily into The Affair's season 2 was my slow comprehension that this wasn't actually a television thriller, but a portrait of how a certain kind of novel gets written, and the obsessions of a writer writing this kind of novel.  It goes so far as to dwell with even boring detail on the novelist's manner of moving his characters around, manipulating them and maneuvering them for the sake of the plot, not for the sake of psychological plausibility at times.  There is as much dwelling on these matters as plot given to the viewer, in the way many writers bang on too much, too long, too minutely,  to be in the least interesting about how they are such good and conscientious creators, who work,  Work, WORK!

If one can enjoy this sort of thing presented dramatically on screen, with a highly glossy surface, then this series is for you.  It evidently is for me.

The third season of The Affair premieres in November. 

Other reading, of real books, not watching on tv,  includes The Romanovs 1613 -1918 (2016) by Simon Sebag Montefiore; for the second time, Napoleon: a Life (2014) by Andrew Roberts; Grant (2001) by Jean Edward Smith; and, for the first time since an undergraduate, Travels Through France and Italy (1766) by Tobias Smollett.  I haven't finished any of them yet, but all 4 are wonderful.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Reading Wednesday -- Charlemagne

It's not easy finding histories published in English about  the kaleidoscopic geopolitical  arrangements among religions  and regions, when the strong men of those we tend to call Merovingians took control of the old Gaulic Empire (5th - 8th centuries). We can glibly recite the names: Charles Martel, Clovis, Pepin, Charlemagne, but how little we know of what went on then -- or how large parts of Gaul became part of Charlemagne's Frankish Empire.

This summer seemed a good idea to fill in some details.

In possession of a gift certificate, off to the Strand I went, certain there would be shelves of books in the European section on these matters.  Well, no. Feudalism in France, there were many, many books, all of which began with a short introduction that explained what we already know: that structural roots of what is understood as pure feudalism began with Charlemagne's administrative organization of his own empire, for taxes, for defense and law-giving.  Feudalism is FRENCH in origin. Well, yah, we know that.

Derek Wilson's Charlemagne (2016)  was only book in the whole enormous place that had Charlemagne as the subject, front and center.  Charlemagne, by Brit popular historian, Derek Wilson, who specializes in biographies of colorful monarchs for trade - commercial publishing, not academic. The books are dense with information, though they are on the prestige end -- not quite coffee table books, but have full-color, beautiful art reproduced to illustrate. It was first published in England (Hutchinson Press). Doubleday reprinted here, but as I said, this isn't a subject of  interest to U.S. trade publishing. 

My reasons for reading Charlemagne  (2006) by Derek Wilson were many..  Most of them were not satisfied, for reasons of length (it's short) for reasons that the work was more geared to dealing with what seems to have been Charlemagne's character.  

However, Wilson's book did reveal something important to me, both personally and for the project in which I am currently engaged. Wilson, methodically, providing excellent sources throughout, debunked the mythology which is what almost all of us know about this first western Roman emperor.  In other words almost everything we think we know about him, no matter how little we know we know, is false -- phony history, deliberately constructed as PR both in his own time and later, for all sorts of reasons.  Best of all, Wilson describes how Charlemagne himself, his scribes and advisors, and those who followed them, employed minstrels / singers / poets to do this. 

Another way of putting it is that these powerful elites engaged in deliberate revision of history for the purpose of convincing those over whom they ruled that things that were not, were, and what had happened, didn't happen.

My copy, acquired for Senior Honors Comp. Lit course.

All of the purposes for which popular culture was deployed to change history find their nexus, naturally, in La Chanson de Roland.

For purposes of brevity, cut to the chase: 

Q: Why was Charlemagne in Spain and the borders of the Gaulish provinces in the first place?

A: To keep the Moors from invading Christian Gaul.

Well, no. 

At that time the Abbasid Caliphate had prevailed over much of the strict religious Umyyad Caliphate, Iberia -- Spain, the western edge of the Muslim world was much divided, with the Umyyads under siege by the Abbasid factions.  (There were other splinter groups as well within Islamic Spain, just as there were splinter groups among the precariously hanging on Christians in northwestern Spain.  One of the Umyyad groups invited (with money payment as a carrot) Charlemagne and his forces to come and help them against the largest Abbsid group. And he did.  That's what he and his forces were where they were -- not fight Saracens, but helping one group of Saracens against another group.

The interpenetration of Muslims in Charlemagne's kingdom was so common in terms of living, trade, marriage that everyone pretty much got along -- particularly for the sake of trade and taxes.

Bet this hadn't been heard by most of us before, who aren't actual scholars of the era and read the languages of the documents . . . .

But the rep of Charlemagne as Christ's Defender of the Faith, who held off the defeat of Europe's heart by the Spanish Saracens holds to this day.  As to a somewhat lesser degree, does Charlemagne's great efforts in taking Jerusalem from the Saracens.  Not true, he never went there, of course.

Mostly he fought other Christian warlords, while all fought with each other, and maneuvered, most often with military might, to overcome his warlord, rivals -- and not infrequently even the Pope himself (who wasn't in Rome at this period).  But Charlemagne had greater vision than all of them.  

This is where he and the western Church came together.  Charlemagne had more than glimmers of Christiandom -- which could be viewed as a spiritual version of the Eurozone.  However many bastards he sired, etc.,  Charlemagne's faith and belief in Christianity and the Church were as deep as his drive to power and control, and both were equally sincere.

He divided his kingdom for the sake of peace in his later years. None of his heirs had his faith, his talents or charisma, and what he built fell apart quickly (rather like what seems is happening with the Eurozone?)

Leo III crowns Charlemagne emperor.

Napoleon coerces the Pope to crown him emperor.. Though being Napoleon he places the crown upon his own head, and further crowns Josephine empress himself.  The creation of the portrait of this event, who was included and what action was depicted, was carefully overseen and dictated by Napoleon.
For his time and place, the scope of his vision of Christendom was exceptional.  It became a dream ideal, a foundation of the equally dream ideal of Chivalry,  that all of those west of the Adriatic were part of something that was unto itself -- special, under God's and Christ's particular, protection and affection. Which drove crusades and other incursions unto this very day.  Charlemagne's empire was the foundation of what later became the Holy Roman Empire, often more an idea or a claim than an empire at all.  But it lasted until WWI finally put it forever in its well-earned coffin.

I understand rather better now why Charlemagne is the patron saint of the very idea of Europe, even though much of his sainthood is founded in faux deeds and deliberately created romance.

I still am unable to outline all the steps along the way though, from the 5th century through that of the 11th.