“Without Parkinson’s, I’m not sure my pasta would have become art”
Author: Sarah McGrathPublished: 16 February 2023
Prep: Cook: Serves:
Swiss software engineer Urs Bratschi shares why he began creating pasta art, how living with Parkinson’s has impacted his ambitions, and why it’s crucial to “find a task that fulfils you”
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your experience with Parkinson’s.
I’m based in Switzerland and have worked in software development for almost 30 years. I’m currently working full-time, and I don’t want that to change for as long as possible. In the summer of 2014, I noticed that my right arm no longer swung when I walked – this was my first symptom of Parkinson’s.
When the diagnosis came, I was desperately looking for something that could help me and free me from it. Most people never experience having to turn their whole worldview upside down, but it’s happened to me twice: the first time when I realised I was gay, and the second when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Yet I have learned so much about myself and the world through the condition – it has made me more open, goal-oriented and positive.
How did your journey with pasta art begin?
I bought my pasta roller 13 years ago with the idea of making my own pasta. My first attempt at making tagliatelle failed, but I recognised the mistakes and successfully made it again. Then I started colouring the pasta, and a work colleague teased that I should make a rainbow. At first, I didn’t take it that seriously, but somehow, I wanted to know if it was possible. I researched how to create the colours, and from there, making rainbow stripes was no longer difficult – and I wanted even crazier challenges!
I think pasta dough has a terrible consistency: it can be tough, difficult to shape, and once you cut it, it’s not easy to put back together. But the nature of the task is what appeals to me. ‘Impossible’ often just exists in our heads. You can do things that seem impossible if you believe they’re possible.
I like having an artistic and logical outlet, which I have in creating pasta art and in my job working with computers. Pasta art and software development are not that different – they both involve creative concepts that need to be built with different components.
In 2021, I started building patterns into three-dimensional blocks of dough, from which cross sections are made. So, the design possibilities have expanded massively. That’s when my friends told me my pasta was not for eating – it was art.
What is your typical process for creating pasta art?
It starts, of course, with an idea. Sometimes I see something and just want to make it as pasta – although the final concept usually only develops during the process. I often work with rainbow colours: if you add some black and include undyed dough, you can combine eight different doughs together.
Creating three-dimensional models requires the biggest effort. To do this, the dough is brought to the desired shape, cut and combined until the desired pattern is present in the dough model. This often takes three to four hours, or even more in very complex cases. Then cross sections are made from the block of dough, and the desired pasta is assembled. Finally, the pasta is cooked, photographed and eaten.
Has Parkinson’s impacted your ability to create pasta art?
When I stand for a long time in the kitchen, the muscles in my back cramp – it feels like a knife is stuck in my back. Depending on how fit I am on the day, I sometimes have to take a break and lie down. But Parkinson’s hasn’t made anything impossible for me so far.
I think it also has had a positive aspect. Without the condition, I’m not sure I would have developed the skill in my pasta to the point where it’s become an art. Parkinson’s has changed a lot about me. I know what I want, and I don’t procrastinate. I want to achieve something in my life.
What advice do you have for someone who has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s?
It is not easy to come to terms with this diagnosis. But you should work on finding a task that fulfils you. Spending hours in the kitchen making pasta art might not be for everyone, but I think it’s important to have an activity you enjoy and goals you want to achieve within that activity – whatever it is.
It is important to me to set an example for others that life goes on – and can go on well. It undoubtedly takes some work on yourself. But is there any real alternative to just making the best of it? I know that I can have a fulfilling, exciting life with Parkinson’s. Today, I think that Parkinson’s and I belong together, and that’s okay.
Need to know
Urs Bratschi is a software engineer and artist based in Switzerland. His work has been highlighted by the non-profit organisation Parkinson’s Art and in the short film ‘Feeding the Spark’ by Fernwerk Films. Urs has also co-authored the book ‘Art and Neurological Disorders’, set to be published in March 2023.
Podcast: Pursuing passions with Parkinson’s disease
An artist and comedian discuss the condition’s impact on their interests
13 hours ago
Could certain cancers be linked to Parkinson’s disease?
Previous research has suggested that people with Parkinson’s may generally be less likely to develop most cancers. However, a new international study has found a potential genetic link between certain types of cancer and the condition. The team analysed genetic data from genome-wide association studies – a research approach that aims to identify gene variations associated with disease risk – to recognise common genetic risk factors between cancer and Parkinson’s. The findings uncovered a genetic link between the condition and both prostate cancer and melanoma. Meanwhile, the sum of various gene variants (otherwise known as the polygenic risk score) that contribute to Parkinson’s was significantly associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. “Our results suggest the importance of shared genetic variants between Parkinson’s and some cancers,” the researchers concluded in the study, which was published in the medical journal ‘Movement Disorders’. They highlighted the need for further studies to…
Investigational Parkinson’s disease dementia therapy fails in clinical trial
Research into new potential therapies for people with Parkinson’s is complex, which means that not all clinical trials will successfully move on to the next phase. This proved to be the case for US biotech company Aptinyx, which announced that it will halt further development work on an investigational therapy following “disappointing” results in the second phase of its study. The research had set out to examine the effect of NYX-458 – an oral therapy created to modulate the activity of receptors in the brain that are responsible for communication between neurons. The aim of the therapy was to improve cognition in people with cognitive impairment linked to Parkinson’s or Lewy body dementia. Yet, when compared to a placebo, the therapy didn’t demonstrate “meaningful improvements” in cognitive function. Dr Andy Kidd, president and CEO at Aptinyx, said: “We are very disappointed that the results of this Phase 2 study did…
A new intimacy guide aims to support people with Parkinson’s disease in the US
Does sexual wellness in the Parkinson’s community need more focus? It’s an area that the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) and media brand Havas Health Plus have targeted through the launch of a free intimacy guide. Available to people in the US, ‘The ParkinSex Booklet & Kit’ aims to support those whose relationships may have been impacted by emotional and physical distance linked to the condition. Alongside an educational guide, the kit includes items such as candles, coupons for adaptative clothing and massage stones. Following a positive response to an initial pilot distribution of the guides in the US, there is now a waitlist for future kits. Commenting on the launch in a press release, APDA president and CEO Leslie Chambers said: “The challenges of Parkinson’s can often result in intimacy and connection getting left behind. This is why we created ‘The ParkinSex Booklet & Kit’, to help people with…