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> Lake's answer would be that the phrase is an allusion to the Commedia's
> "Ahi, quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura [Ah, how hard it is to tell what
that
> wood was]". So it seemed like an interesting thesis to explore on list.

Well, here I am with my non-existant Italian again but I would translate
this differently and crudely as:
    Ah, how to say that it was a hard thing.
If I were to get poetic I might play with the dura/hard to try either
difficult, fearful or trying.

To get to the point, I'm not seeing as much of a connection between "cosa
dura" and "le fait est dur" other than the use of "dur/dura."

Regards,
   Rick Parker