This former Islip Town resident penned his memoirs of a journey through the Spanish countryside. Read about it here.
Kenneth Strange, a former Bayport resident, published his first book, “It’s Your Camino: One Couple’s Pilgrimage Across Spain,” last month.
Strange, a Brooklyn native, moved to the South Shore hamlet when he was 15 years old. His first of many trips to Spain was during a field trip with the Bayport-Blue Point High School, which he graduated from in 1975. Strange recalled paying for the trip with money he saved while working at Heinlein’s, a former hardware store on Main Street in Sayville.
A lot has happened in his life since then.
The first-time author, who left Long Island in the late ’70s, spent a few years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation before transferring to the Department of Justice, where he retired from in 2010. Strange is also a licensed private investigator in the state of California, where he currently resides with his wife of over 25 years, Aurora.
As a private investigator, Strange has investigated everything from insurance fraud to missing persons and Hollywood celebrity cases. He couldn’t disclose more information, particularly about the later cases mentioned, due to the various non-disclosure agreements he has signed over the years.
Strange’s book chronicles a recent trip to Spain, where he and his wife walked the Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of Saint James. The couple took the 1,200-year-old Jacobean route, which began in the Basque village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees and ended outside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where, tradition has it, the remains of Saint James the Great are buried.
The 500-mile trek took 31 days.
Regarding his literary idols, Strange cites Ray Bradbury as one of his favorite authors. He first discovered the famous science-fiction writer’s work in a Brooklyn library during his teenage years. “I liked [Bradbury] because he told stories very simply,” Strange said, adding that he revisited the author’s work later in life.
The first-time author says one of the “highlights” of his life was meeting Bradbury, about 10 years ago, during a signing in a small bookstore in California.
“I snagged one of his books really quick for him to sign and told him, ‘Your writing changed my life,’” Strange said. “[Bradbury’s] eyes watered up when I told him this. He pulled me in and gave me a kiss on the cheek. The whole experience still blows my mind.”
Bradbury would pass away a few years later, in 2012, at the age of 91.
Strange’s other favorites include James Joyce (“Ulysses”), Jon Krakauer (“Into the Wild”) and Ernesto Sabato (“The Tunnel,” “On Heroes and Tombs”). He also calls Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” about the Spanish Civil War, a “beautiful story.”
But it’s James Michener’s “Iberia” that Strange refers to as the “quintessential” book on Spain. The book, which runs over 800 pages, covers a wide range of subjects throughout Spain’s history, including Moorish occupation and Francisco Franco. Strange says he used it as his “guide” during his junior year in college, studying abroad in Madrid.
“I actually went out with the book and met some of the same people [the author] did,” Strange said, adding that the most notable aspect of that particular trip was meeting the American bullfighter John Fulton. “His story about trying to make it in the bullfighting business is amazing.”
Fulton, a Philadelphia native, settled in Seville, the capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region, and, according to Strange, opened an art studio featuring his own drawings—created with bulls’ blood. Fulton passed away, in 1998, at the age of 65.
When asked what he thought it is about Spain that inspired not just him, but many others as well, to write about their experience in Spain, Strange said, “I wish I knew.”
“It’s an exotic place that’s different from our own,” he added. “The people are very friendly and open.”
After college, Strange taught Spanish and English as a second language at LaSalle Military Academy in Oakdale for a short time before taking a job, in 1979, teaching English at a school for the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia, which he described as the “most orthodox” of all the Muslim majority countries.
It was there that he met his wife, a native from the Philippines who was working as a stewardess for the local airline at the time. “I ran into her at a bookstore in the airport and it was like ‘game over’ for me,” he recalled, with a laugh.
Aside from Spain, Strange has lived and worked in numerous other Spanish-speaking countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico.
Strange credits actor Martin Sheen with playing a “pivotal role” in getting him and his wife to take the 500-mile pilgrimage, which is detailed in his book, during their latest trip to Spain. Sheen appears in the film “The Way,” which Strange says is known by pilgrims “all over the world.”
Sheen and the former Bayport resident know each other personally and do volunteer work in Mexico together. The actor also provided a blurb for the back cover of Strange’s book after reading the manuscript.
Strange recently completed his second book, entitled “Feds: From ‘Silence of the Lambs’ to the Castro Brothers,” about his Joint Terrorism Task Force experiences with the FBI. The Oscar-winning film included in the book’s title is a reference to the movie’s star, Jodie Foster, who attended Strange’s graduation from the FBI while doing research for her role as Clarice Starling.
“[Foster] sat behind my parents during the ceremony,” Strange laughed, adding that she also ran obstacle courses with him and fellow students prior to graduation.
Strange says the title of his first book came from an offhanded comment that two fellow pilgrims, from the U.K., made during the long walk. “It’s your Camino,” they said. “It’s yours and you take ownership of it. However you want to do the path is up to you.”
Those who walked with Strange came from all over the world. He recalls one from Kuwait, who commented that he took this particular pilgrimage before “taking [his] own,” referencing the Hajj, a religious duty to visit Mecca, the holiest city in the Muslim faith.
“It’s Your Camino: One Couple’s Pilgrimage Across Spain” is currently available on Amazon.