“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
8 months ago
35 new Parkinson’s drug trials launched in last year
Researchers launched 35 new clinical trials of Parkinson’s drug therapies in the last year, according to recent findings published in the ‘Journal of Parkinson’s Disease’. The 2023 Parkinson’s drug development pipeline report noted a slight decrease in active trials compared to the 2022 update (down from 147 to 139 overall). About one-third of trials were still in Phase 1, half were in Phase 2 – and just 20 (14%) were in Phase 3, raising concerns about ‘slow progress’. However, of the active trials logged on ClinicalTrials.gov at the time of the latest report, 35 were found to be newly registered. The report authors concluded: “The slow progress and lack of agents transitioning from Phase 2 to Phase 3 is concerning, but collective efforts by various stakeholders are being made to accelerate the clinical trial process, with the aim of bringing new therapies to the [Parkinson’s] community sooner.”
Parkinson’s Europe co-founder Lizzie Graham wins World Parkinson Coalition award
Parkinson’s Europe co-founder Lizzie Graham has won a World Parkinson Coalition (WPC) award for her contribution to the Parkinson’s community. Lizzie is one of four people set to receive the Robin Elliott Award – which is given out every three years to individuals whose efforts best embody the goals and ethos of the WPC. She will be presented with the award in a ceremony at the World Parkinson’s Congress, which will be held in Barcelona later this year. Commenting on the news of Lizzie’s award, Parkinson’s Europe President, Veronica Clark, said: “Lizzie is Lizzie, and we love her for who she is and what she has done for us all – for people with Parkinson’s past and present and, I’m sure, future.” Lizzie co-founded the European Parkinson’s Disease Association (renamed Parkinson’s Europe last year) in 1992. She has since held several roles within the organisation – including secretary general and…
Study explores predictors of cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease
Cognitive impairment can affect some people with Parkinson’s – and may greatly impact their quality of life. Now, researchers in China have examined the possible risk factors for cognitive impairment in those with the condition. The study analysed data from 409 people with Parkinson’s within two years of their involvement in the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) – an international study that follows people with and without the condition over time. The participants, who were newly diagnosed and experiencing normal cognitive function at the start of the research, were studied for at least five years. Published in ‘Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience’, the results indicate that older age at onset, high blood pressure and worse baseline motor symptoms may be among factors that could contribute to an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment. The researchers cautioned that “a larger sample and much more comprehensive assessment, and prolonged follow-up, will be required”.