Ça y est — the hole is cut. The work went well, after some initial confusion about how big the stair cavity should actually be. That made me pretty nervous, but soon we resolved it by looking at the specs for the staircase on the vendor's web site.
The crew spent the day cutting the hole. They tarped off the area and put tarps down on the travertine stairs so that debris and dust in the rest of the house were minimized.
First they removed the floorboards in the attic, and then they knocked out the ceiling, which is made of thin bricks hanging from hooks off the joists and covered with plaster. Then they reinforced the remaining ceiling and cut out the floor joists to open up the hole completely.
Callie took it all in stride. She was a little confused at first, but she didn't seem afraid and she settled right down in spite of all the hammering and sawing.
Now the downstairs entryway is full of rolls of insulation and big sheets of plaster board (sheetrock). The new radiators are also down there, and the staircase is in the garage.
Jacques the boss said the crew will need to take a couple of days off soon to go finish another job. We hope they won't disappear for too long a time. Jacques also said the job should be completed well before the end of April. Ça, on verra...